Today (28th Dec) was my last patch visit of the year. What with the mad weather we’ve been having lately it was nice to get out & about on a calm, cold & clear winters day. Some highlights included the usual male Hen Harrier, lots of Siskin & Lesser Redpoll, 7 sharming Water Rail, 5 Stock Doves, a juvenile Peregrine, 52 Whooper Swans, an Otter, good numbers of duck at ECNR, quite a few Stonechats & an interesting dark morph Buzzard at Newcastle (about as dark as I have ever seen one in Ireland anyway, with seemingly uniform chocolate brown head & underparts).
Offshore, divers were certainly the order of the day with 4 Great Northerns (about as many as you’ll ever see here) & a minimum of 120 Red-throated counted on a single scan. With divers spread out (often in loose flocks) between Kilcoole train station & Six Mile Point (c.4km), and a fast flowing Southerly current, it’s hard to say how many were present exactly (large numbers not without precedent... Dick Coombes got a count of 185 Red-throats here in Dec 2012).
So with no new species added today the 2013 Patch Birding Year at Kilcoole, Newcastle & Blackditch ECNR finishes up with 152 species, 203 points & 103.83%
All in all, an excellent result! Achieved my two targets for the year:
(1) Beat my previous highest patch year list record of 146 (2012), ideally getting at least 150 species in the process... DONE
(2) Reach 200 species for my overall patch life list (was at 199 by the end of 2012 & got 3 new patch ticks in 2013)... DONE
Patch ticks: Lesser Whitethroat (200), Whinchat (201) & Crane (202).
The Lesser ‘throat was an all round winner on the basis of it being the big 200 but also as it did the honourable thing & hung about for 2 weeks, drawing a crowd of up to 40 local birders. The Whinchat was a most welcome claw back on a bogey bird & the Crane was great to catch up on after having dipped many in the past.
Bird of the Year: Long-eared Owl... amazing views & totally unexpected! Superb.
Rarities: American Golden Plover, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, Hobby & Sabine’s Gull. Not the greatest haul compared to recent years but still can’t complain. A Dotterel wouldn’t have gone astray however... to round off the cast of plovers nicely that is! ;)
Good patch birds: 2 Scaup, 3 Glaucous Gulls, Balearic Shearwater, Pomarine Skua, 3 Marsh Harriers, male Hen Harrier, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, 2 Yellow Wagtails, Spotted Flycatcher, Snow Bunting etc. (the Glaucs, Balearic & Yellow Wags were particularly sweet).
- Some excellent falls of common/scarce migrants in late April & again in late September (highlighting the potential for something rare!).
- Keeping track of Spring passage of Arctic waders on a daily basis from May to early June.
- Nice to hear plenty of singing Reed Warblers using available pockets of breeding habitat.
- Shoveler & Lapwing still breeding away despite all the odds.
- The Spring passage of Roseate Terns was just superb and let’s not forget migrating Arctic Terns, always a delight to see bouncing in off the sea on a foggy day!
- Flocks of Greenland White-fronted Geese migrating overhead on clear October days, a sight to behold.
Little Tern wardening: 45 pairs fledged 75 young (nothing died!). Ringed Plovers & Oystercatchers did well too.
- A great year for Otters (at least 8 animals in the area).
- Awesome views of Risso’s & Bottlenose Dolphins.
- A couple of Common (Harbour) Seals which are rare around these parts.
- Heartening to see butterflies making a return to decent numbers (incl. patch tick of Dark Green Fritillary).
- Impressive swarms of Ladybirds in late summer!
- Bumblebee ID for beginners (7 species nailed so far).
Dips: Little Auk, Sooty Shearwater, Great Crested Grebe, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker & Cetti’s Warbler (all seen by others).
Species missed (?): Jack Snipe, Goldeneye, Garganey, Little Stint, Black Tern, Lapland Bunting etc (any number of these usually expected in a given year).
I'll be back on patch come the first weekend in January for Patch Birding 2014! Still need to sort out patch bogeys of Iceland Gull & Woodcock...