Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Frustration on Patch

With the incoming "Storm" being hyped up, I was looking forward to a long weekend on the patch, with the hopes of some Juicy migrants inbound from the states.

A quick seawatch in strong winds produced 1 Leaches, 1 Sooty and 1 Manx along with a rake of Auks, but otherwise very little moving, which was surprising.

So I moved on to the gardens.
Despite being sheltered for the most part, the wind was still coming over the top and affecting things and little was noted in any of the usual spots, in fact nothing was even heard.

I then chanced the lake, and here I ran into a good sized flock of smalls with the golden plover...and a stint with them. Oooo.

Out in the middle of the mud, it looked cold and spot on for a Semi-p, after a few minutes one of the obliging peregrines flushed the entirety of the lake and the flock of plover and smalls landed in close and sure enough it was a cracking juv Semi-p. The bird continued feeding until the peregrine made a second pass a few minutes later, and this time the flock decided that the beach was a better option, so out they went.

A walk of the weed on the beach produced a white wag but little else.

Sunday was a far sunnier day, though still a tad on the windy side.
Started out working gardens, but that breeze was still affecting a fair few spots.
The grotto was looking the most sheltered, so I concentrated there, with a few crests, chiffs and tits, sparrows and finches hanging around.

The boom moment came when checking the ash and sycamores at Spanish point, when suddenly down below me a beige looking warbler started mooching along the fuschia...flicking wings and swinging the tail!!

Got the bins on it and there was this big f*ck off flared super, big domed head and bright legs, and then it dove for cover.
Radde's warbler!! It mooched in the fuschia for a few seconds, invisible, and gave a couple of calls. The call was unfamiliar, did not match up with to the slightly wittering call I was used to, more of a wet "smick". But later it wasn't hard to find several examples of that call online.

I stayed rooted to the spot for over an hour, trying the odd bout of pishing, but the bird refused to show. I then tried to get a view down into the geo I suspected it was spending it's time in (unfortunately private property) and a bout of pishing again brought up that dome head. This time I got a look at a chunky looking bill, and then it turned and dove for cover again, showing an orangey looking undertail.

Now I was really thinking Radde's, but that call was throwing me. Unfortunately my phone was dead, so calling for other birders to help was out. I gave it right up until dusk. But I never got a view of the bird again.
Once I checked the calls online all doubts were eased, so I put the news out to a few local birders in the hopes help would be on hand to re-locate on Monday. Of course, that was unlikely with most headed to Baltimore. So despite being certain of what it was, I am just not happy with the views I got, not how I want to find a Radde's, which has always been a dream bird of mine to find. So it's one that got away.

I spent most of Monday trying to relocate the bird, staring into that geo and fuschia, walking along the tideline staring up and checking other likely gardens. Even with the wind having eased, and more birds being present (Yellow browed still in the Dusky Garden), there was no further sign. Every chance it's still in there though!

Species: 169
Score: 302
Comparative Score: 127.07%

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Ballycotton Bonanza

I forsook Mizen this weekend, deeming it about time that I gave Ballyc a full and proper scouring in October for once.

Having never really done so in the past, there are lots of species that I should have added to my Ballycotton List long ago, but never got round to it.

Speaking of which, because of the birds this weekend, I managed to detect an error in my lists. Even though I have seen Black Redstart in Ballycotton many times over the years..I had not checked it off when calculating my previous year scores and averages etc. So I amended that.

Anyway, on to the birds. I started off early on the cliffs. With a SW blowing and murky drizzle falling, I gave it half an hour of a seawatch. This paid off with ease. Sooties were going by in close, and with them 1 Leaches Petrel and 2 Grey Phalaropes, both full fat patch ticks, but both unsurprising ones.

Leaches is another one of those birds (along with Hobby, Water pipit, Roseate and Little Terns and Tree Sparrow etc) that I was told was rare when I moved to Cork. In reality bugger all people seawatch in October. Obvious really, what with the prospect of mega sibes and yanks, but the birds are out there.
A couple of years ago I went out on a "pelagic" (it was really just a pukefest in a small yacht) out of Cork harbour in September. Straight out of the mouth of the Harbour, we encountered Grey Phal and Leaches petrel fairly easily, so I have been waiting all year to nab em for the Ballycotton list really.

The sun then came out and it turned into a gorgeous day, so I set off for Phil's back passage (hee).
A Yellow Browed warbler was the next full fat patch tick, calling at me from the sparrow hedge, and mooching towards the southern gardens with crests. This was too easy.

Little else was doing up around Phil's, so I pushed on to skinnys and the main street of the village. A couple of chiffs in most gardens, but nothing more.

The school, however, was jammed full of birds. A Ring Ouzel in the lower hedge was the first bird to make an appearance, burying itself in the fuschia. The garden itself held a Common Redstart (yet another full fat), flicking at the top of the sycamore beside the house, a Pied Fly, and the second Yellow Browed of the day, along with a rake of Chiffs and Crests, including one loud, grey "Swee-oo-ing" chiff.
Returning back to the road, and there was a Black Redstart bounding around the buildings.
5 Year ticks, 4 of them full fat within a couple of hours. Excellent migration by Ballycotton standards.

Another Yellow Browed and Black Redstart were present at the "For Sale" valley, between the school and the gate, and later that evening, a fourth, skulkier, showed itself in the sycamores below the school.
With the Short Toed Lark still present at the lake, the impressive tally was

1 Short Toed Lark
4 Yellow Browed Warblers
2 Black Redstart
1 Pied Fly
1 Common Redstart
1 Ring Ouzel

Back down for seconds today, and much of the same stuff still around.
the School area held the same 2 Yellow Broweds and the Pied Fly. Never made it up to the cliffs, but there was no sign of the one at the for sale valley, or either of the black reds.

The Short Toed Lark was still present at the lake, and 2 Snow Bunting calling as they flew low overhead were a welcome year tick.

With stuff to do at home, I left Ballycotton reasonably early...and paid for it, as a Drake Blue Winged Teal flew into the lake and a Hobby was picked up at Ballynamona.
The coming week will be interesting.

Species: 168
Score: 290
Comparative Score: 122.02%

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Attempted Seconds

Nipped down to Ballycotton again this evening in the hopes of better views of the Bairds.
Unfortunately the usual scenario applied with the tide low. Scattered waders. Dog Walkers. And not a sniff of the bird, despite it having been seen earlier. The Short Toed was still present showing nicely.

A little stint was a nice year tick however and made up for dipping in a small way.

Species: 162
Score: 271
Comparative Score: 114.99%

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

All Filler no Killer – Visit 22

I finally bit the bullet and spent a few nights on Rathlin from 5-8 October, giving it just some of the coverage it richly deserves at this time of year.  Winds were from the SW up until the last day which brought a strong westerly with showers.  I had a mixed few days, but am fairly pleased with what I managed to see given the unfavourable weather conditions.
Things got off to a promising start scoring a Garden Warbler (113) feeding in Church Valley in close company of 2 Blackcaps in the same thicket.  Nice to claw back one of the species I missed back in the spring.  Walking up through Ballyconagan I got my first glimpse of a rather large female Sparrowhawk which caused much panic in the nearby Meadow Pipits.  I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that the area around the old Coastguards Station was good for buntings and plovers in autumn and was checked daily.  First up on the 5th were a nice flock of 22 Golden Plover (114) but a good stomp around revealed just a single Skylark.  On my way back to the main road I overheard the sound of one of my favourite birds – the Twite and was soon sat in the middle of a flock of 25 as they fed on withering seed heads.

Church Valley - hand me that mist net


The gardens, harbour and coast road to Mill Bay were all quiet, so I went and had a good check through the pipits at Ushet Port.  A flock of 4 Whooper Swans (115) passing south at sea raised my spirits and I made my way to sit at the bench overlooking Ushet Lough at dusk; as I’ve always wanted to see what drops in here for the night.  Well, it wasn’t long until 4 Whooper Swans flew in – perhaps the same birds seen off Ushet Port only half an hour ago?
                                                                               Time for a scratch - a peak count of 24 Stonechats were recorded
The next day brought a small arrival of 6 Goldcrests and peak counts of 103 Linnets, 46 Goldfinch and 44 Robins to the patch and a single House Martin looked lost over Craigmacagan Lough.  That evening I went up to check around the East Light and was rewarded with numerous Wheatears and Meadow Pipits appearing from nowhere in the lighthouse compound, before moving swiftly south along an old stone wall.  These birds were obviously exhausted and the Wheatears in particular just sat on the walls of the lighthouse in small groups looking confused.  As I walked back down the lane a female type Merlin nabbed a Meadow Pipit and flew off with it giving me a cursory glance.  I estimate that up to 25 Wheatears and 150 Meadow Pipits were seen in the last hour of daylight here.  Several migrant Silver Y moths were also in the lighthouse compound and surrounding area.


 The next morning I left the Manor House B&B while it was still dark to make my way to the East Light for a seawatch.  A Wheatear was sat in the rain under a street light and along the high road 9 Song Thrushes and 9 Blackbirds were sitting on the road. My hopes of an overnight fall were premature however and the highlights from an hour and a half’s seawatch were a Bonxie (116), 2 Puffins, a Tufted Duck and a submarine! 
The only new arrivals during a check around the usual sites were 2 Common Redpolls amongst a flock of 26 Lesser Redpolls in Church Valley and 30+ Pied Wagtails and a Whimbrel at the West Pier. Two Wigeon were on the sea at Mill Bay.
My final morning was spent lurching about the Coastguards Station and moorland at Ballyconagan and scanning out to sea.  The overnight switch to a F4 westerly had certainly brought lots of Gannets and Kittiwakes ashore and eventually 3 Bonxies and an Arctic Skua were seen in hot pursuit of the latter. I was bemoaning my inability to find anything decent when I heard a slow rattling call overhead, followed by a loud ‘chew’ – a Lapland Bunting (117). 
I dropped my seawatching gear off back at the B&B and set off round the harbour towards the coast road to Mill Bay.  I stopped as usual at the small beach at the base of the South Pier to scan for waders and the first bird I put my bins on was a Snow Bunting (118)!  The gardens were again devoid of anything unusual, so I made my way once more to the East Light where the heavens opened and I spent several sodden minutes hunched by an old stone wall.  Perhaps this was how the Wheatears had felt a couple of nights ago, I thought.  Once the rain stopped I stood up and felt the cold rain fall from my hood drenching my trousers, then there was another rattling call, this time I managed a good view of the bird hopping about the lighthouse compound, another Lapland Bunting. It flew high above the light and was lost to view.  A moment later a flock of 24 Barnacle Geese (119) flew east probably trying to find their way to Islay.  I returned to Church Bay for a final look at the Snow Bunting, only to find there were now 2 of them!

A grand total of 7 year ticks were added during this short trip and leaves my score on 119 species, 149 points or 117.32%


October twitching and a nice find.

After a few days down on Mizen with some mega Sooty Shearwater passage, but only a few commoner migrants on the head (Blip view of Rosefinch the best), I decided to nip back to Ballycotton with the news of a Short Toed Lark on the lake.

Myself and Hanna arrived late evening and headed straight up to the lake exit, where the lark was showing very well on the shingle. Absolute stunner, a real rufous job.

Whilst scanning the lake, I picked up a small wader flying, distantly, in with a couple of Dunlin at the back of the channel. Clearly slightly smaller and slimmer, with clean underparts and longer wings, it fit the bill for a Juv Baird's or White Rumped, but I was unable to see the rump to pick between the two.

We ran around to the gate above the lake, where after a good deal of searching, and hearing the bird call multiple times in the flock as they flew around the lake, I managed to pick out the bird, alongside a juv Curlew Sandpiper (also new for the year). It was a long winged little git, no doubt about that, and even let me see the rump, so I was definitely leaning towards bairds.

It was very distant though, and although it looked the part, the combination of fading light and distance, I decided to put out the news of a probable and allow others to dot I's and cross T's.

The bird was seen this morning. So happy days.
3 year ticks and an excellent find with bonus points.

Species: 161
Score: 269
Comparative Score: 114.14%

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

September Surprises

Between seawatching & a family wedding, half the month of September was spent lolling around West Clare. As such, I was eager to get a few days in on the patch when possible as there could well be a few finds & year ticks in store.

With a nice spread of yanks & scarce European waders about the country, a visit on 10th Sept was aimed at just that. Coinciding a trip to The Breaches with low tide and sure enough 3 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers (143) were easily found feeding with the Dunlin flock. A 1st-winter White Wagtail & 6 Red-throated Divers moving South at sea were the best of the rest that day.

Skip forward a couple of weeks and the South coast appeared to be in danger of collapsing into the sea under the weight of all the Wrynecks about. This combined with reports of Yellow-browed Warblers blacking out the sky along the East coast of the UK spurred me on to check a few likely spots for migrant passerines on the patch.

Misty/overcast conditions & a light SE wind at 8am on Friday 27th produced a small but enjoyable 'fall' around the Six Mile Point area consisting of a Spotted Flycatcher (144), a Grasshopper Warbler, a Whitethroat, a Sedge Warbler, 5 Blackcap, 10+ Chiffchaff, 15+ Goldcrest, 1 Grey Wagtail, 60+ Siskin, 11 Lesser Redpoll and good numbers of Blackbird, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Swallow & House Martin.

A good haul by patch standards. I've had worse days on Hook Head/Great Saltee! The Spot Fly was a great one to claw back after dipping a few at Kilcoole in June. Will continue to work this area for migs through October & early November. The garden at Six Mile Point & the coastal scrub at ECNR look perfect for something to drop into on a wet, misty day but the vast expanse of wooded lanes & hedgerows just a few hundred metres inland means that 90% of stuff must dissipate fairly quickly. Still worth a shot though as this area has hosted Buff-bellied Pipit, Ortolan Bunting, Icterine Warbler, Wryneck, Firecrest & Siberian Chiffchaff in the past.

Spot Fly
Coastal scrub & Six Mile Point garden on right, trees along Newcastle Sea Road on left

Once the clouds parted & the sun began to shine on Friday morning the few migrants about pushed inland almost immediately. With that I continued North along the coast towards Kilcoole. Large rafts of seabird including 500+ each of Kittiwake & Razorbill were offshore from Newcastle attracting in a pale phase Arctic Skua. Four Light-bellied Brent Geese flying South past here were the first I've seen this season & 3 Pintail (145) resting on the water offshore with a flock of Wigeon were new for the year (these later relocated to Webb's field).

Whilst scanning Webb's field from the Southern end of the Sea Buckthorn at around 16:25, a distinctive "peeuw" call drew my attention to a wader flying across the lagoon. Binocs up & I can see a slim winged, subtly marked juv plover landing on a stretch of stony shoreline. A fine juvenile LITTLE RINGED PLOVER it is! My third patch record & the second this year following on from an adult in exactly the same spot in June. The bird quickly flew out into The Breaches where it joined a flock of Dunlin & Ringed Plover. Good views for 20 minutes with these before nipping back into Webb's field on its own, where it showed again (distantly) at 18:15.

With this run of good luck, a chance to get back down on Monday 30th Sept with Noel Keogh was duly taken advantage of. Light SE winds & overcast conditions remained so this time the lanes & gardens around the Ballygannon area at the North end of the patch were checked for migrants (10 Goldcrest, 2 Chiffchaff, 6 Lesser Redpoll & a single Sand Martin the best here). A quick look offshore from Kilcoole train station platform (the only spot with decent height for seawatching) revealed a distant Bonxie (146) moving North. The marsh held a Pintail, 20 Shoveler, a Knot & a good count of 27 Little Grebe. Find of the day was most certainly a superb juv/1st-winter Glaucous Gull flying North over the beach at close range past The Breaches at 13:20. Fresh speckled plumage, clean pink based bill with a full dark tip & a dark eye. Didn't expect to see one of these here at the end of Sept! Furthermore, what was almost certainly the same bird was later picked up by Stephen McAvoy on his patch at Dalkey!

Trudged around a promising looking stubble field at Kilcoole to find a flock of c.40 Skylark which wasn't bad & a check of the Six Mile Point area in the afternoon revealed the Spotted Flycatcher still present along with 2 Chiffchaff & 2 Blackcap whilst a flock of 23 Greylag Geese flying about overhead were the first I've seen this season.

One of the gardens along Ballygannon lane

Scores at end of September as follows: 146 species, 187 points & 95.65%