A much anticipated Atlantic weather system arrived on Irish shores on Saturday 17 August, prompting many birders to travel to traditional west coast seawatch points - but not this intrepid patch birder! Before I had even boarded the Rathlin ferry I received texts about Fea’s (type) Petrels and large shearwaters from Carnsore to Donegal. There are lots of patch birding points still available if I can manage a decent seawatch this autumn and my optimism increased when I spotted that one of the boats docked in Ballycastle Harbour was called SKUA!
A SW wind is probably the worst direction for a seawatch from Rathlin, but sure, it was worth a crack... A 2 hour watch from the East Light produced 102 Manx Shearwaters, 29 Puffins, 1000+ Gannets and 100’s of Kittiwakes and Fulmars. The phrase flogging a dead horse springs to mind! Nevertheless, this was my first ever concerted seawatch from Rathlin and the experience was brought to life by up to 15 Harbour Porpoise crashing about below the cliffs. For much of the seawatch these were being followed by a mass of Gannets circling high above the sea like vultures. Ever the optimist, I expected the frigatebird to put in an appearance at any second! As I watched from my sheltered position behind the lighthouse wall, a trickle of House Martins and Swallows moved south and 4 Swifts passed by giving great views. A small flock of Linnets then dropped in and landed on the wall, before making their way south.
I checked the east end gardens and the “yellow-browed” garden held Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and a Whitethroat. The high tide wader roost at Mill Bay hosted 15 Ringed Plover, 3 Dunlin and 2 Curlew and best at Craigmacagan Lough were 3 Teal, 1 Wigeon and a juvenile Moorhen. So another visit passed by with no new species added for the year and not even a sniff of a skua (silly name for a boat anyway...). Think I’ll wait until after a strong north westerly before I attempt any further seawatching from the East Light. I had three species of skua from the South Light in about 15 minutes last September, so there’s hope yet.
Since 25 May, I have managed to add just 1 species to the year list (Swift) and this won’t change until mid September at least, as I’m away on my annual pilgrimage to the Bridges of Ross.