Monday, 29 July 2013

Clouded Judgement - Visit 18

I don't know if it was the promise of some passage wader action, a decent seawatch or an urge to check all pine trees on the patch for Crossbills; but I was out on Rathlin again on 27 July.  However, given the view of the patch from the ferry, I needn't have bothered...
The patch is in there somewhere!
Visibility on the patch was very poor for much of the day, but was just about good enough to tally 16 Dunlin, 10 Ringed Plover, 1 Curlew and a Redshank in Mill Bay.  Surprisingly, no waders at all were noted at Ushet Lough.  
From Ushet Port an hours seawatch through the gloom was promising - 29 Puffin, 900 Large Auk, 3 Curlew, 7 Dunlin, 1 Teal and a good few Manxies, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Gannets. But was cut short by the return of the sea-mist.
The sun did appear around Church Bay for a time in the afternoon and plenty of Butterflies (including 3 Red Admirals) and Dragonflies burst into life.  So I shall leave you with a few insect images from the day.  There's always something to see on Rathlin...

Common Darter
The fungus gnat Sciara hemerobioides apparently!

Cinnabar moth caterpillars on ragwort


A Ferntastic day was had by all...

A Mega Weekend...Just to the east there..

This weekend, I managed to add 5 year ticks to the list. Common sandpiper, which was long overdue.
Sooty Shearwater, which I cannot believe almost went all of July without falling.

On Sunday I even managed the last 2 skuas, Pomarine and Long Tailed (valuable points there).

Amazingly, a full fat patch tick was also found, A Treecreeper at the gate over looking the lake. Truly not a bad weekend on patch. An adult Yellow Legged Gull was the best of the rest.

However ALL of this was overshadowed by the finding of Ireland's first Mongolian Plover by the legendary Denis O'Sullivan, at Pilmore.

What an incredible find and an amazing looking bird. I spent a fair bit of time with this gem over the past 2 days, the only sandplovers I have seen being (mostly) grotty first summers of the various species in Oman several years ago, in horrible heat haze. So a perfect bird in nice light like this was much appreciated.

Congrats to Denis on his 5th first for Ireland.

Species 139
Score: 201
Comparative score: 85.29%

Monday, 15 July 2013

A Spotted Spotted Crake

Saturday, as many are undoubtedly aware, was an absolutely glorious day.

As I knew it would be getting hot, I was up and about early at Ballycotton, conveniently intercepting the high tide. Started out at the cliffs, but little was passing seabird-wise, and so made my way to the lake.

Gull numbers are again building up, as are waders with yet more Greenshank in than last week.
A few more med gulls were about, but little else with them.

I then made my way in from silver strand to the lake channel (too lazy to brave the walk from Ballynamona in the rising heat basically), and began to search for any small waders or terns.

Whilst walking the ditch that runs into the reedy area a bird got up from underneath me. A CRAKE!

It flopped onto the mud just a short distance away, and began to walk along the lake-reed fringe towards the bog road. It was a Spotted Crake! Not just a Full Fat patch Tick. Not just a finds tick! But an actual lifer!!
A species which has managed to avoid me in all my travels abroad, despite every other crake species wandering around my feet over the years.

The bird was on view for just a brief period as it made it's way down the lake fringe, eventually being consumed by both reeds and heat haze.

At this point I badly wanted to hit a beer garden, but spurred on by this great bird, I made my way to the marshes, working Shan and Allens in the hope of a Green Sandpiper (Matter of time in the back of Shan). But this great bird was all there was to be, and I had no complaints.

After hours wandering in the heat, I was knackered, so had a quick swim to cool off and made my way for shade and coffee.

Score: 192. Comparative : 81.47% Species: 134

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Swift Update - Visit 17

On 5 July, I carried out my third and final Twite survey of the southern half of the patch. I drew a blank on Twite but did manage to see my first patch year tick since late May!  On the breeding bird front, it was nice to see a few pairs of Linnets feeding young and I also interrupted a rather agitated pair of Lesser Redpolls, which I’m not sure have been confirmed breeding on the island as yet.  A few lemon yellow Willow Warblers have also fledged as had a juvenile Ringed Plover in Mill Bay.

After I finished my Twite work, I went to have a look at what birds were using the recently planted ‘Corncrake corridors’ – 12 species in all, including lots of juvenile House Sparrows.  As I climbed over the gate at the ‘walled garden’ behind Church Bay, I heard the scream of Swifts (110) as they bombed by overhead.  As I looked up, two birds were seen heading off towards the East Light.

The number and variety of returning waders is slowly increasing.  The Ushet Lough area held 18 Curlew, 3 Redshank and a Greenshank.  Unfortunately, it looks like the patch Lapwing have had a poor year, as just two pairs have managed to fledge a single juvenile each.

Time now to take a few weeks off and keep an eye on the weather forecast for some suitable seawatching weather.

Score 110 species, 136 points or 107.9%
Juvenile Wrens


Friday, 5 July 2013

June, a belter of a month!

Now over the mid-way point through the Patchwork Challenge & things at Kilcoole are definitely looking up! Currently stand with a very good chance of reaching my personal goal of 150 species by the end of the year mostly thanks to a great June which continued to deliver the goods since my last update, perhaps overtaking May as the best month so far.

Latest batch of patch year ticks up until the end of June as follows:

(132) Spotted Redshank:
a breeding plumaged bird flew in off the sea & landed in Webb's field on 18th. Only my 3rd patch record.
(133) LESSER WHITETHROAT: a singing male present in the Sea Buckthorn from 18th-30th. My long awaited 200th patch tick!
(134) Greenshank: first returning bird of (dare I say it?) the Autumn on 24th.
(135) Ruff: a cracking breeding plumaged male (black with rufous 'head gear') in Webb's field late in the evening of 29th.
(136) Tufted Duck: a drake in Webb's field late in the evening of 29th.

Scarce waders have been getting very, well, scarce(!) on the patch these past few years so gleaning Spot Shank & Ruff especially this side of September was most welcome. Tufted Duck has a curious habit of turning up in June so no surprises there & whilst not particularly frequent on the patch, a mid-summer passage Greenshank was certainly expected, although one that could have easily been missed if not out birding on the right days.

The undoubted highlight of the month showed up early in the morning of the 18th. On starting my Little Tern wardening shift at 6am, I picked up a calling Spot Shank flying in off the sea whilst chatting to Cole (our night warden) who was finishing up his shift for the day. It landed in the lagoon not far from our camp & given that it was as black as the ace of spades I figured I best let fellow day warden, Andrew, know about it otherwise he'd have my guts for garters! So after dragging the poor lad out of bed & up along the coastal track to get a better view of the marsh, we had no sign of the bird despite a good search. Andrew toddled off back to bed whilst I spent a few more minutes scanning the shoreline, but no luck. Whilst walking back along the Sea Buckthorn, I heard an unfamiliar, fast & fluid "teh-teh-teh-teh-teh" call coming from within the spiny fortress. Didn't click with anything off hand immediately. Getting closer I heard it again, this time sounding more like a song ringing with an almost bunting like impression... Jaysus!

The next time it sang, the repeated notes were preceded by a short, scratchy warble, with a distinct Sylvia feel to it! And this wasn't no bog standard Common Whitethroat. After another blast of song I zeroed in on the birds location & there it was, plain as day, a LESSER WHITETHROAT, singing away from a-top a branch, shaking its wings & tail during the final notes of its song phrases. MEGA!

I fired off a couple of record shots & legged it back to the camp, waking Andrew once again with the news... 

"Andrew, there's a Lesser Whitethroat in the buckthorn bushes!"

... [groggy noises]

... "Are you having me on?!"

"No it's sitting out in full view singing its head off!"

a pause

... "Ah for **** sake!"

So we bumbled back up to the buckthorns & basked in the wonderous glory that was the Lesser 'throat. Eighteen years in the making and there it was, my 200th patch tick giving it welly!

It stayed around until the end of the month, by which time some 40 birders had come to twitch it (including one intrepid year lister all they way from Co. Clare!). It became very elusive after a few days, showing best & singing most frequently early morning but disappearing for long periods during the afternoon.

Andrew looking very pleased with himself after ticking Lesser 'throat in his PJ's!
Back to everyday patch birding: some signs that the seasons are a changing have presented themselves in the form of a light passage of Sandycove-bound Mediterranean Gulls from the 18th, the return of failed/non-breeding Curlew from 20th with a few Whimbrel thrown in for good measure & the first dispersing juvenile Black-headed Gulls seen on 30th. More unusual were sightings of a Lesser Redpoll on 20th & a Grey Wagtail on 25th, both heading South (probably post-breeders).

Despite having 20+ pairs of Lapwing nesting in the coastal fields this year, just four juveniles have fledged successfully so far, largely due to some pretty intense Hooded Crow predation at the egg/small chick stage. A couple of young broods remain so fingers crossed they'll make it.

One of the precious few juv Lapwing
Also dipped a couple of Spotted Flycatchers in the Sea Buckthorn on 26th & 28th! Not guaranteed to get these guys at all in any given year so an opportunity missed...and by as much as 30 seconds according to Andrew!

Final scores as of the 30th June: 136 species, 172 points & 87.97%

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Six months completed!

Since reaching the ‘ton’ with a Collared Dove in early April I’ve now managed to reach a ‘ton and a quarter’ by half-time with a couple of six-pointers to ease the way to a points score of ‘180’!
In anticipation for some autumn seawatching I took advantage of strong west winds in mid-April to suss out the patch for seabird potential. This resulted in a ‘baywatch’ from Blacksod pier which delivered small numbers of Puffin, Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake along with auks, Gannets and Fulmars moving out of the bay towards the wild Atlantic. Something to keep an eye on! The next day (15th) my first patch Swallow for the year arrived followed by a Willow Warbler on the 23rd and the month ended with a couple of male Eider ‘scoped at range, bringing the tally to 106.
Numbers of northward bound Whimbrels increased during May (Dave Suddaby)
May opened with a few summer arrivals in the form of Little and Common Terns in the bay, along with a small group of summer plumaged islandica Black-tailed Godwits which were northward bound with increasing numbers of Whimbrels (max day count 102) and Sanderling (max day count 52). On land the first Sedge Warblers arrived and a small passage of Swallows on the 8th included a House Martin and a few Sand Martins. With news of a good skua passage starting to develop along the west coast, including seeing several Poms and Long-tails off Annagh Head on 13th, I tried a few ‘baywatches’ but to no avail. However, sitting at the kitchen table and staring aimlessly out over the garden whilst having breakfast on the 16th three shapes appeared that quickly transformed into gorgeous adult Long-tailed Skuas! They slowly drifted over the house and made their way down to the bay and then headed north! The next skua to be added to the list was an Arctic off Blacksod pier on 21st followed by another 3, plus a Bonxie the next day, then to complete the set, 6 adult Pomarines drifted through on the evening of 23rd whilst the first Grasshopper Warbler of the year ‘reeled’ from the garden. Following a further Long-tailed Skua passing through, May finished with a singing Corncrake ‘from the doorstep’ on the 30th bringing the tally to 118.
A singing Corncrake appeared for a few days in late May (Dave Suddaby)
Number 119, on the afternoon of 1st June, turned out to be #patchgold: on hearing the ‘typical sound of mobbing crows’ I instantly scanned towards the sound and quickly ‘locked onto’ a large raptor flying low over the ground and approaching the garden. After a few moments of taking in all the subtle features it was clear that I was watching a Black Kite! A ‘first’ in many ways, including the first record for Co. Mayo. The kite slowly drifted south and on reaching ‘the end of the road’ at Blacksod it started to thermal up before continuing to drift away. A few days later (4th) my first patch Swift, Cuckoo and Crossbill of the year were added, followed by a Storm Petrel off the pier on 11th, a fly-over Lesser Redpoll on 12th and a Common Sandpiper ‘on the rocks’ on 15th bringing the tally to 125 species for the year. Not bad!
So after six months what are the ‘obvious gaps’ in the patch year list? Well there are several but most obvious being species like Pheasant, Knot, Grey Plover, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher. Hopefully these, along with a few ‘6+ pointers’, will make for a memorable autumn!