Monday, 25 November 2013

Déjà vu birding – Visit 26

No additional year ticks were seen on Rathlin on Sunday (24 November), but a fine selection of winter visitors were present.  Many of which could be found in much the same spots as I had seen them earlier in the year. 
As the ferry pulled into the harbour, two smaller shapes amongst the Eider flock drew my attention – a Long-tailed Duck and a Goldeneye. Both scarce birds on the island and both in exactly the same place I saw them last winter!  Flat calm seas and great visibility allowed for careful scanning offshore and this produced 4 Great Northern Divers off the West Pier and 2 Common Scoters in Mill Bay (in exactly the same spot I had added them to my island list earlier this year).
Goldeneye and Long-tailed Duck - both would have been island ticks this time last year
Next up was a female Pochard at Alley Lough with a few Tufted Ducks.  I get the impression this may be a returning bird, as I have seen a lone female at this lough every autumn/winter for the past few years.
Ballycarry Pool this week had 33 Teal, 4 Tufted Ducks, a few Snipe and a Water Rail.  The hedge and lane were full of finches and thrushes including 2 Fieldfares and 4 Greenfinches.  This week the goose flock was found hanging around Ushet Lough and was now 57 strong, but all were still Greylags.  I later heard from the RSPB warden that a Snow Bunting had been seen in the Ushet area earlier in the day.
So no change on the score front and with perhaps only one trip remaining this year, will I have to settle for 121 species?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

AGP at last and Patch Tickage

Saturday down at Ballycotton was fairly boring. Aside from small numbers of Divers starting to move past the cliffs (Winter's coming), seawatching was unproductive.

It is also a tad too early for any decent gulls at the pier (though I gave it a go), and nothing much out on this side of the bay.

Spent the rest of the day trying to dig out the AGP with no luck, only to leave and have news texted to me that it made itself known as the high tide came in.

Today was a far better showing. Nothing much to be said for the morning, but as the tide came in Plover numbers magically increased (from whence who knows). Besides this, I could not see the bird on the lake.

I then moved to silver strand, where a smaller group on the rocky spit FINALLY produced the bird...with an excellent bonus of a pair of Slavonian Grebes sitting off the rocks. Full fat patch tickage as they say!

Prior to this I have only seen one grebe species other than the common pair (Great crested and little), and that was a single Black Necked Grebe way back in early October 2006. Other species seem few and far between here, so to have not one, but two together as a patch tick was great, and having checked Aghada, in vain yesterday, specifically for grebes, I soaked these birds up for a good hour. Which lead to me picking up 2 crossbills flying over towards the village chipping away.

Just when you think, with winter closing in, year ticks will be few and far between.

3 year ticks today and 1 patch tick. Turned the weekend right around.

Species: 176
Score: 331
Comparative Score: 139.29%

Monday, 11 November 2013

One point at a time – Visit 25

I paid another visit to Rathlin on 10 November and managed another year tick in the form of two Siskins (121) in fields and hedges east of Church Bay.  Most of the finches noted recently appear to have moved on, with no large flocks encountered during the day.  On the ferry across a Rock Pipit landed on board before quickly flying south and it was clear that this species at least is currently on the move.  Over 50 birds were in the West Pier area and were searched through carefully for Water Pipit (no joy).  

The thick scrub and hawthorns near the rescue centre (have had Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler here in the past) held 25+ Blackbirds, a female Blackcap, 9 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Song Thrushes and a Redwing.  A late Peacock butterfly was also on the wing here.  Ballycarry Pool ‘looks rare’ at the moment and today held 41 Teal and 45 Curlew.   The hedge here was strangely quiet. 
Around 200 small gulls were loafing in Mill Bay but still no sign of a Mediterranean or Little Gull amongst them this year.  I caught up with the goose flock in fields east of here but unusually for this time of year the only species present were Greylags (about 45). Will this be the first year since I started visiting Rathlin regularly that I won’t see a Pink-footed Goose?
The Siskins were a species I had missed earlier in the year so were a welcome sighting.  The only species I have now knowingly ‘missed’ which have occurred on the patch this year are Pomarine Skua, Hen Harrier and Whinchat. Other glaring omissions from the year list include Mistle Thrush, Great Crested Grebe, Bar-tailed Godwit and various gettable seawatch species such as Storm Petrel and Arctic Tern.

As we move into the winter season, it is now time to focus my attention on the various patch wetlands. 
Score now 121 species, 151 points or 118.9%


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

South Dublin Coast - Update

Since the last update back in February, I have managed to get over the hundred species mark for the patch, which I didn't really think possible at the start of the year. These are the species that I managed to find since then:

(64) Curlew: One flew over Shanganagh on the 26th February. Small flocks noted on the patch through the summer.

(65) Red-breasted Merganser: A female flew past Coliemore during strong easterly winds on the 10th of March.

(66) Fieldfare: Several heard at around 11pm among thousands of Redwings flying east on the 10th of March.

Spring migrants arrived throughout April with Chiffchaff (67) on the 14th, a Swallow (68) the next day and Willow Warbler (69), as well as Sand Martin (70) on the 18th. A seawatch from Coliemore on the 21st added Sandwich Tern  (71) and Manx Shearwater (72), with several Wheatears (73) on Lamb Island plus Common Sandpiper (74) and House Martin (75) at Sorrento Point. The best spring migrant was a Grasshopper Warbler (76) heard singing for several minutes along the lower Shanganagh River on the 21st of April - only the third I have found in the patch. A Lesser Black-backed Gull (77) flew over shortly afterwards. A Mallard (78) on the 23rd was the last new species for April.

Manx Shearwater a few metres off Sorrento Point

May started well with a singing Sedge Warbler (79) along the Shanganagh River on the 1st and a Stonechat (80) along the Shanganagh Cliffs a few days later. The first Swifts (81) appeared on the 15th of May. I was away on work most of the rest May and June, so the next new species was a Crossbill (82) heard flying over the garden on the 25th of June.

Throughout July, I helped with the tern watches organised by the South Dublin Branch at Coliemore, so it was no surprise to add Arctic (83) and Common Tern (84) during the first watch there on the 9th of July. The tern colony on Maiden Rock was moderately successful with at least 15 chicks fledged. Unfortunately there was no breeding attempt by Roseate Tern this year and I had relatively few sightings of that species during the summer. Puffins (85) are quite rare locally, so it was good to get five flying north on the 9th of July. The rest of the month was fairly quiet, only managing to add another three species: a Dipper (86) on the Shanganagh River on the 15th.


Things picked up again in August, adding Tufted Duck (87), Dunlin (88), Redshank (89), Common Scoter (90) and Roseate Tern (91) during seawatches from Coliemore. Several Teal (92) and Wigeon (93) flew north past Coliemore at the end of the month.

A Buzzard (94) perched on a lamppost in Cherrywood was a bit of a lucky find at the start of September. For the rest of the month, I was hoping to concentrate on seawatching at Coliemore and trying to find migrants at nearby Sorrento Point, but the weather refused to play ball - light westerlies dominating almost the entire month. At one stage, Manx Shearwater passage was averaging about 0.3/hour over nine hours of seawatching. Despite this not exactly ideal conditions, I kept the patch list ticking over with Whimbrel (95) and Peregrine (96) in the middle of the month.

Sewatching did pick up at the end of the month, with both Great (97) and Arctic Skuas (98) past Coliemore on the 26th of September. So what species was going to be #99 and bring me up to 100%? Amazingly enough it was a Spotted Flycatcher looking quite miserable out on Lamb Island on the 30th. Noel Keogh had found one at Sorrento Point back in May, but which failed to hang around so I was delighted to get this "catch-up" patch tick! A Kestrel (100) was also hunting on the main Dalkey Island. Sorrento Point didn't hold any other migrants, but a scan out to sea did produce a rather jammy first-year Glaucous Gull (101) flying north to join a large feeding flock of gulls and auks between Dalkey Island and the Muglins. The same bird had been found by NTK at Kilcoole earlier that day. The good run continued with a Sooty Shearwater (102) flying south in awful conditions the next day, as well as a Grey Plover (103) heard calling over the garden on the 5th of October - the first garden record no less!

Coliemore at dawn

For the rest of the month I was out on the Celtic Explorer surveying the Celtic Sea (Grey Phal + Great Shearwater best birds) - of course the winds shifted easterly as soon as I was off the patch. Once I was back on dry land, I headed straight for Coliemore and more seawatching, noting a Great Northern Diver (104) on the 30th of October.

So all that leaves me on 104 species, 127 points and 105%.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Late autumn on Rathlin - Visits 23 & 24

In case you were wondering if I have given up on Rathlin for the year. No not a bit of it.  Unfortunately the weather has been against me and I have not made it over as much as I would have liked.  Nevertheless, I have made a couple of trips since my last update.
19 October
A common feature of late autumn birding on Rathlin are the hoards of Kittiwakes which can be seen dip feeding in the sound, particularly following westerly gales.  This morning saw over 1000 birds bobbing above the waves.  Another is the frustrating ferry times at weekends, which result in only being able to bird for about 4 hours during a ‘day’ trip.  Covering the north half of the patch today produced very little – a Whimbrel at the West Pier, 1 or 2 Common Redpolls with 30 Lesser Redpolls in Church Valley and good numbers of other finches which have now attracted at least 3 Sparrowhawks (including a very large female mentioned in a previous post) to the patch.  Also of note were 15 Goldcrests and an obvious arrival of Chaffinches, with over 50 birds scattered around the patch.
3 November
Perhaps the most unusual sighting of the whole autumn was of three other birders joining me on the ferry today!  Wilton Farrelly, Ian Graham and Philip West picked a good day to come over, as this was the roughest ferry crossing I have experienced to the island!  It turns out the next sailing was cancelled, so we were lucky enough to even get to the island.
Once safely on dry land the lads covered the East Light and gardens area and I went off to check the southern half of the patch.  I was glad to find Ballycarry Pool holding water and attracting a few birds again, including 28 Teal and 17 Curlew. The hedge here had numerous Blackbirds, a Redwing and a Goldcrest. Several Meadow Pipits were feeding along the edge of the pool.
I worked my way down to the South Light seeing very little of note, so I began making my way back towards Church Bay to check some gardens.  I then received news of a Brambling feeding along the shore in Church Bay; this would be an island tick – so needless to say I got there fairly quickly!  Initially there was no further sign of the bird, but it was eventually picked up again at its original location, when it was discovered there were actually 2 of them.  Species number 120 for the year and my 138th for the patch! Cheers lads.  
Patch tick Brambling
Whilst on the ferry back to Ballycastle, Wilton filled me in on the rest of their sightings from up East – 2 Snow Buntings, Blackcap, Merlin, c16 Goldcrests and numerous Goldfinches.  It then transpired that they had also seen a couple of proper patch rarities, a Woodpigeon and 8 Long-tailed Tits!  I’ll need written descriptions for those two...
From talking to a few islanders today it appears there has been somewhat of an influx of Snow Buntings to the island this past couple of weeks, with single birds being seen in gardens, ones and twos in the Ushet Lough area and a small flock currently at Kebble at the west end of the island.
This late in the year my chances of seeing additional species are becoming slim, but I won’t be giving up just yet.
Score now 120 species, 150 points or 118.11%


Stormy Weather

With forecast cataclysmic South Westerlies, I was up and on the cliffs at Ballycotton early on Saturday morning to be greeted by this.
White Water at Ballycotton

The wind was incredible, making it difficult to even open the car doors.
I hunkered down behind the car, and at times thought the wind was going to lift it on to me.

Birds were definitely moving, with good numbers of Auks, Gannets, Kits, and Sooties moving through the troughs.

Whilst watching a lovely juv Sabines gull, I saw a a dark sickle shaped underwing come up behind it, and then a gorgeous Fea's petrel arced up over the through. A full fat patch tick! It arced exceptionally high in these winds, covering ground with ease compared to the Sooties. After just a few arcs it passed behind my car and was on its way.
Another Sabs and a flock of 5 poms were the best of the rest.

The squalls passed fairly quickly and so I moved on to the gardens, but there was little of interest here.

Moving on to the lake, I ran into Murf who had seen the White Rumped Sand and found an AGP also.
A good scan from the road failed to produce either. I was going to have to brave the beach and the wind to have a chance.

An hour sat in the reeds at the lake in the lashing rain eventually produced the White Rumped as the tide came in, but I never saw the AGP. That is the second one this year on patch to give me the slip.

On returning to the car park, I checked Shanagarry where a long over due Spotted Redshank was up the back, whilst great finds bonus points came in the form of a lovely Green Winged teal in the quack flock.

Sunday was basically just a wash out with nothing of note save for a Dark Bellied Brent Goose on the lake.

Species: 173
Score: 325
Comparative Score: 136.74%

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Autumn at Ballyquintin

Another long stretch since I last updated ... I was away much of August, then a weekend in early September. One attempted visit became aborted when I found 3 avocets on the way to Ballyquintin - just a few km N of the patch.

Since my last update, just five new species:

Great skua: 1 October, the one and only seen by me from the Down coast this year. Good numbers of kittiwake flying north that day, and one great northern diver heading south

Mute swan: a pair turned up in Barr Hall Bay, first seen 5 October, and still there today (3 November)

Barnacle goose: 12 October, and the surprise of the autumn. I was scanning the shore between Barr Hall Bay and the point for waders and gulls, at low tide. I noticed a small dark goose in the lagoon, some way off, and assumed it would be a brent. When I finally bothered to put the scope on it, there was a barnacle goose, standing alone in a shallow lagoon.

Greylag: 3 November, 2 flew south over the headland

Pintail: 3 November, a female in Barr Hall Bay with the mallards. A lone drake wigeon also there.

There has been nothing to my knowledge on the fields. harvesting there was later then other places, and the fields are still stubble. Groups of golden plover overhead occasionally. Large flocks of gulls have appeared, moving from fields to shore, but I have been unable to find more than the usual suspects. Large flocks of linnets are moving around the headland, and there was a flock of tree sparrows in the hedges along the shore south of Barr Hall Bay yesterday (2 November). No short-eared owl or jack snipe on the coast marshes (yet), but common snipe are now appearing there. There seem to be relatively good numbers of stonechats in the area.

114 species, 147 points

Friday, 1 November 2013

October bird of month: Sabine's Gull vs Feral Pigeon!

Was out at sea on board the R.V. Celtic Explorer again for much of the first half of the month so just one early October visit in before setting sail. Managed some good effort afterwards and all in all a total of four new patch year ticks were added bringing me past the 100% comparative score mark and reaching my target of 150 species for the year. Happy days.

2nd October (F3-4 SE, overcast with rain): Miserable seawatch from Six Mile Point, hardly any movement with just 1 Manx Shearwater south (500 Manxies in half an hour & some RBMergs seen there the previous day by Oran O'Sullivan, the mergs would be a patch year tick). A 1st-winter Little Gull & 15 Sandwich Terns were taking refuge on the the beach at Newcastle whilst 2 Bar-tailed Gowdits & 1 Pintail were the best on the marsh at Kilcoole. Finished up the patch circuit at Kilcoole train station for about about 17:30pm and decided on one last look out to sea despite being soaked to the skin. A flock of Kittiwakes which were rafting offshore, looking like they were settling to roost had one daintier bird dancing about above adult winter type SABINE'S GULL!!! It was happy out, feeding away whilst the Kittiwakes were all bedding down for the night. At one stage a juv Kit got up beside it, just to confirm how tiny they really are. My second patch record (first I saw here was a juvenile day roosting on the beach back in Nov 1997!). Great stuff.

There was also this interesting, large dark mantled gull with the flock in Webb's field. My best guess is it's a 3rd calendar-year 'argentatus' Herring Gull. Any takers?

18th October (F4-5 SE, big fat wet heavy rain): Horrendous weather. Not sure why on Earth I bothered coming out on a day like that! Visibility was poor at sea so hard to know if anything was moving. 5 Little Gulls close offshore and 2 Whooper Swans, 5 Gadwall, a Greenshank, a Med Gull, & 2 soggy Wheatears on the marsh for my efforts. Could have been worse!

19th October (F2 S, mild & dry): Had a look around the Kilcoole train station car park area for migrants in the morning. Lots of Blackbirds in which was a good sign as were viz mig finches overhead including 80 Siskin & 60 Redpoll whilst 1 Blackcap & 1 Grey Wagtail were the best of the rest on the deck. A Wheatear, 1 Little Gull & 2 Bar-tailed Godwits along the coast at Kilcoole whilst an evening watch at Newcastle produced 1 Merlin, 1 calling Green Sandpiper & 4 more Wheatears on the beach.

22nd October (F3 S, mild, clear & dry):  A fine morning down around ECNR & Newcastle but producing little of note other than a Manx Shearwater at sea & a Gadwall in the channels. Reached the South end of Webb's field to find lots of duck in thanks to the lagoon starting to flood after heavy rain over previous days. Among these were a couple of nice looking Scaup! About my 5th patch record of this species which is definitely the rarest of the diving duck here. Delighted with these I headed around the other side of the Sea Buckthorn for a look offshore to be greeted by a flock of geese heading South low over the sea. Expecting them to be Brent I was amazed to discover they were Greenland White-fronted Geese, and a whole 26 of them to boot! Never guaranteed to get them among the wintering Greylag flock at any stage of the winter so great to connect with this group heading for the North Slob. A single Light-bellied Brent Goose, a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, Med Gull & 7 Otters (two family groups of 3 + 4) were also seen in Webb's field whilst 7 Swallows moved South overhead & a Wheatear was on the coastal path.

There are a number of fields left as stubble on the Western boundary of the Kilcoole patch this year and I had been noticing a lot of finch & pigeon activity in them over the past few days so decided to take a closer look that afternoon. 200+ Goldfinches, a Grey Wagtail & a Buzzard were instantly apparent upon arrival and careful scanning of some nervous looking pigeon flocks revealed 10 Stock Doves, 30 Collared Doves and best of all, 3 'real wild' Feral Pigeons! The resident pairs of Feral Pigeons once present around farmyard sheds on the patch have seemingly disappeared over the past two years so was actually chuffed to get these guys having resisted the temptation of ticking any of the many 100's of racing pigeons which can be seen flying North along the coast here on any given day in Spring/Summer! Rock bottom patch birding...

24th October (F1-3 S-SE, dry & mild): Feeling greedy after the previous triple tick bonanza, I headed straight for the birch woodland in ECNR first thing in the morning in the hopes of connecting with Jay, GSWoodpecker or Woodcock, all of which I still need for the year. Needless to say I got none of them but plenty of activity from the woodland boardwalks & pathways. Lots of Goldcrests in particular as well as overhead Siskin (50+), Redpoll (50+), Bullfinch (10+) & Skylark (25+). Pleased to get two flock of Crossbills (4 + 8) moving South overhead (heard them calling too...nothing out of the ordinary!). Otherwise, a Treecreeper, a Grey Wagtail straight in off the sea high overhead, a Pintail on the marsh & a Blackcap at the entrance were the best of the rest at ECNR. More arrivals along Newcastle & Kilcoole consisted of 10 Whooper Swans, 23 Greylag Geese, 10 Greenland White-fronted Geese (1 + 9, flying South), 1 Tufted Duck, 2 Greenshank, 1 Whimbrel (flying South), 152 Black-tailed Godwits (flying North), 1 Little Gull offshore, 1 Merlin & 3 Swallows

150 species, 198 points & 101.27%