Monday, 15 December 2014

Fun and Games in Larne

If my last update from the Larne Lough patch seems a long time ago, that’s because it was!  You can read it here – and since that post not a lot has been happening, a year tick every now and again, with little in the way of quality.
My struggles are highlighted by the fact that my first year tick since 23rd June were some Sand Martins (117) in a mixed flock of hirundines feeding over Glynn rugby club lagoon on 9th August.  I had never knowingly seen this species around Larne before, so I was more than happy to see them! 
From early July I kept a look out for passage waders, which eventually produced a few year ticks - a Knot (118) on 16th August and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper (119) on 24th September were new for the year, the latter only my second ever patch record!  Elsewhere, peak counts of 25 Greenshank (22/9), 32 Snipe (15/11) and 88 Lapwing (6/12) were notable.  A Jack Snipe (120) was found at Glynn on 15th November, which became my first record of this species on the patch for almost 5 years!  I managed to successfully twitch an unexpected Grey Plover at Sandy Bay (121) early morning on 30th November - they are normally seen in small numbers off Glynn Station much earlier in the autumn.  A single Whimbrel is currently wintering around Glynn.  It was not all good news on the wader front as I managed to miss out on Spotted Redshank and Ruff.

Curlew Sandpiper
Seawatching was also a struggle, but with (extreme) perseverance produced some year ticks.   The first Arctic Terns (122) of the year were seen from a short seawatch on 24th September.  This species occasionally appears at Glynn Station during spring, but all I saw here this year were a handful of ‘red-billed’ Common Terns.  Some decent onshore winds on 15th October had me in the shelters in Chaine Park for first light.  Despite the bewildered glances of some locals, this proved to be an excellent decision as several Whooper Swans (123) and Common Scoters (124) were seen as was my first ever patch Bonxie (125)!  To finish things off nicely for the day, the first Kestrel (126) of the year was seen above the coast road.

It has been a great year for ducks on the patch and the autumn period once again threw up the occasionally oddity.  Three Common Scoter were off Glynn Station on 16th October – no doubt some of the birds seen on the seawatch the previous day. A female Shoveler was present on 19th July and the first returning Goldeneye was back on the early date of 4th August.   A male Scaup was present off the station on 12th September, with 2 there on 28th.  The interesting run of Pintail records continued, following the on/off appearance of a male (in various states of moult) throughout the summer.  An eclipse male was seen on 29th October, followed by an adult male and 2 female types which have been omnipresent since 15th November. 
During the past few months Larne Lough has once again proved itself as one of the best sites in Ireland to see Goosander.  An eclipse male was present off Glynn Station on 12th September (local breeder?), followed by an adult male there on 11th November (same bird?).  Two females were seen late evening on 5th December followed by a high count of 4 females the next day.  The adult male at least is still lurking around the lough somewhere.  One of my best finds of the autumn was a Slavonian Grebe seen distantly from Glynn Station on 22nd November.  I wonder is it the same bird seen here this spring.  Whatever its provenance, it looks set to spend the winter on the lough – the first bird for many years to do so.
Eclipse male Goosander

Female Goosanders
It has also been a good year on patch for Little Gulls, I managed to find my 4th bird this year on 1st September at Sandy Bay.  Mediterranean Gulls are present on the patch all year round, though it appears only two birds are overwintering this year – an adult and a 2nd winter.  Best seen at the mouth of the Inver River.  The most exciting recent development has been the regular sighting of two Sandwich Terns around the mouth of the lough, an adult and 1st winter.  I picked them up feeding well offshore on 30th November during a seawatch, associating with hundreds of Kittiwakes and small gulls which gather to feed on sprat in and around the Maidens at this time of year.  That evening they appeared on the rocks at Sandy Bay and have been observed here occasionally ever since.  These are the first wintering records for Northern Ireland away from County Down.
Juvenile Med Gull

Little Gull
There was much fun and games on 13th December when, whilst scanning offshore from Glynn Station, I picked up a white-winged gull flying across the mouth of the harbour towards Islandmagee.  As it looked set to cruise around distantly above Ballylumford power station, I decided to drive around to see if I could get better views.  Despite it being possible to throw a stone from Larne Harbour on one side of Larne Lough to Ballylumford on the other, it takes a good 20 minutes to drive from Glynn round to the north tip of Islandmagee and when I arrived there was no sign of the bird.  It eventually appeared flying around above the docks on the other side of the lough!  I watched it through the scope as it landed on one of the harbour floodlights beside a Herring Gull.  Views were atrocious but the outline of the bird and its size compared to the Herring Gull suggested it was an Iceland Gull (127).  So it was back in the car for the half hour drive back to Larne.  No sign from the harbour gates at Sandy Bay or the road out to Curran Point.  Then just as I was about head home, it appeared over the car and flew towards the ferry terminal.  Sod it I thought and followed it in.  As I explained myself to security, I could see the bird feeding in the wake of a docking ferry and moments later found myself being escorted (surprisingly not off the premises) down to a gateway beside the ramp for a better view.  So there I was standing in the near dark watching an Iceland Gull in Larne Harbour as passengers flooded past me in their cars.  All this for a lousy 2 points!

Iceland Gull
The next morning, it took a loaf of Kingsmill to finally pin the bird down as a 1st winter Iceland Gull and obtain some decent shots.  The only other year tick since my last update was Lesser Redpoll (128) but the less said about this the better!  With the year drawing to a close, there might still be time for one or two additional species, but as it stands scores are 128 species or 166 points.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Rathlin Island Autumn Highlights

Since my last update from Rathlin, I have spent a total of 9 days on the island, adding a further 14 species to my year list. The fact that 5 of these were my first patch records was encouraging, though sadly another autumn goes by without troubling the multiplier effect column on the patch birding score sheet.
On your bike...

With little of note in the gardens on 27th September, I spent a bit of time between Ushet Lough and Rue Point.  Checking through the 60 or so Greylag here finally produced 4 Pink-footed Geese (100) resting on the lough - a species I somehow failed to see last year.  A mass of seabirds were feeding in large groups off Rue Point, including some Manx Shearwaters.  Eventually, a couple of Arctic Skuas (101) were seen in hot pursuit of Kittiwakes.  Two Arctic Terns (102) stood out amongst the hoards of dip feeding gulls and were a surprise addition to the year list having failed to encounter any around the patch for a few years now (through a lack of seawatching).  Elsewhere, 4 Swallows were feeding over the harbour and 12 Twite were feeding in one of their favourite spots at the base of the East Pier.  Once back in Ballycastle, I located single first winter and second winter Mediterranean Gulls around the harbour.  I will reveal the reason for mentioning this later.

I stayed on the island for four days in early October recording a total of 83 species, including 8 further year ticks.  Weather conditions were fairly decent, except for an almighty storm coming in from the Atlantic during the 5th and overnight on the 6th.  This resulted in strong SE winds and produced some decent birds.

A seawatch from the East Light on the 4th looked like a complete waste of time, until I connected with a lone Sooty Shearwater (103) heading east.  A long awaited patch tick!  With this, I renewed my efforts and single Arctic Skuas and Great Northern Divers soon flew west.  I scanned the birds at the base of the cliffs with my bins and picked out a “white-winged gull with a red bill”, which I eventually locked onto through the scope.  It turned out to be a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull (104) – another patch tick!

The Twite flock in Church Bay had now increased to 15 and the Ushet Lough to Rue Point area again produced some decent birds; none more so than a male Hen Harrier seen hunting along the far side of the lough.  Also in the area were 5 Chough, a male Grey Wagtail and a tame juvenile Brent Goose feeding close to the South Light.  As it was having its fill of grass, I thought it rude not to join it for lunch.  Other notable sightings on the 4th were 80 Goldfinches, 1 Whimbrel, 1 Wheatear, 22 Snipe and 8 Goldcrest.

Not a care in the World
I began the following morning with a 2.5 hour seawatch from the East Light, which produced 55 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Arctic Skuas, 1 Pomarine Skua (105), 1 Arctic Tern, 1 Common Scoter, 10 Barnacle Geese (106), 6 Whooper Swans, 3 Puffins, 2 Red-throated Diver (107), 1 Great Northern Diver and a patch tick Little Gull (108).  All of which were very pleasing, especially the Little Gull – a nice juvenile tagging along with a flock of Kittiwakes.  Had I thought to put on some extra layers I would have stayed longer, but I headed off to get warmed up.  Not a lot else was seen the rest of the day as the storm moved in, though 3 Kestrels and a few Reed Buntings may have been new arrivals.

In a rare departure outside the patch boundaries, I made my way to the west end of the island early the next morning which only served to remind me why I don’t normally go there. Saying that, there are some great looking spots that are well worth checking, especially the last gardens before the lighthouse – which had about 75 Chaffinches and a dozen thrushes in them. 
Keeble cottage at the west end and yes I did check those nettles for Lancy...
Once safely back in more familiar surroundings, the most obvious impact of the overnight storm was that some 2000 Kittiwakes and 250 Black-headed Gulls had been forced close to shore between the West Pier and Mill Bay.  I set up the scope outside the hostel and began grilling the flock (for a Sab’s) and managed to pick out two Mediterranean Gulls – a first and second winter.  I then realised that not only was the second winter probably the same bird I had seen on 4th but both were likely the same birds I had seen in Ballycastle Harbour on 27th September.

After lunch, the winds died down and the sun came out, so I set off for a circuit of the gardens.  There had been an obvious arrival of migrants, with Blackbirds and Song Thrushes most prominent.  The east end gardens held 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Blackcaps, 18 Goldcrests and several flocks of Golden Plover (109) flew south overhead.  Three Swallows were at Ushet Lough and I watched a young Merlin fly straight out to sea at Rue Point – migration in action.

The final day of the trip (7th October) was spent thoroughly checking all the usual spots for passerine migrants. A couple of Redwings were amongst decent counts of 47 Blackbirds and 28 Song Thrushes and the Goldcrest tally had increased to 28.  The ditch to the south-east of Ushet Lough (which I have earmarked for a Barred Warbler) held 2 Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff. The only place I had yet to check was the lane at Ballycarry Pool and I’m glad I did because a Garden Warbler (110) was found sunning itself there! The very strong light made it look scarily pale at first but as I moved slightly closer it began moving around giving me a good look at its (sadly unmarked) under-tail coverts.  So in just two years of coverage I’ve had Mealy Redpoll, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Garden Warbler and Whinchat in this 100m stretch of hedge.  Not bad for starters.
Sunset at Mill Bay

I’m struggling to find any highlights worth mentioning from my visit on 13th October, a Fieldfare (111) flying over Craigmacagan Lough was new for the year and a Pomarine Skua off Rue Point were about the best I could manage.  The Twite flock had increased to 20 birds and a Wheatear was at Mill Bay. 

I had a much better day on 17th October, which began with a trek up to the Coastguards Hut in search of rare buntings.  I failed in this regard but did manage to locate a patch tick Tree Pipit (112) which flew over calling before landing briefly on an old stone wall.  The grounds of the East Light held a Grey Wagtail and a Lapwing.  It was also a good day for flyover Whooper Swans; a total of 47 birds were seen passing through during the day.  More than 30 Redwing were present, most of which were in the hedge at Ballycarry Pool.  A group of 3 Barnacle Geese were in much the same spot as the friendly Brent Goose a few weeks ago and it was good to see that all 5 Chough were still on the island.  I returned to the ferry via Mill Bay and spotted an Arctic Tern roosting on the rocks, which became the first tern of any species, I’ve actually seen land on Rathlin!
Taking a break at Coastguards
Barnacle Geese at Rue Point
I didn’t make it over again until 1st November, which was a particularly depressing day on patch owing to strong southerly winds.  Still it was nice to see the female Pochard back at Ally Lough for another winter.  Two Whooper Swans were at Ushet Lough and a late Wheatear at the East Light.

My next visit on 8th November was one of those days you felt something good might appear at any moment – a Goldeneye at Craigmacagan, a Long-tailed Duck at Rue Point and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the harbour (doubling my previous high count for this species!) were all decent birds for Rathlin.  The distinctly Scandinavian vibe continued with counts of 39 Blackbirds, 36 Robins and numerous Wrens and Stonechats.  As I sat in Church Bay eating lunch I noticed half a dozen hooded crows appearing to dive bomb something in the distance – I thought no more of it until 10 minutes later, when I could hear lots of pipits calling.  I looked up to see a Short-eared Owl (113) cruising along the road above the harbour.  Given the apparent recent influx in eastern England, this species was well and truly on my radar.  However, it’s not often these hoped for species fall into place, the Desert Wheatear I had thought about the night before certainly didn’t!  This brought my patch life list to 149 species.  I wonder what will be next.

Scores – 113 species, 144 points or 95.36%


My thoughts exactly

Monday, 8 September 2014

Rathlin Update

It’s been a while since my last update from Rathlin, owing to a lack of visits during the past few months due to work commitments.  Despite not visiting at all in June or July, I have managed to add 5 species to the year list in the 5 visits I have managed since my last update.
The first of these was on 11th May which started off with the second Grey Wagtail of the spring singing from trees above the small stream In Church Valley. Bird of the day however, was a singing Lesser Whitethroat (95) above Church Bay – only the 4th island record and the first since 18th October 2009.  Interestingly, this bird was skulking in the same dense thicket as I saw the last one!  This area has also hosted Garden Warbler in the recent past and regularly gets good numbers of Blackcaps and Whitethroats.  Looks a good bet for a Barred Warbler one day I reckon.
Here is a sound recording of the bird taken on my iPhone:

Also new for the year were 3 Mealy Redpolls (96) buzzing around the same area.  There seems to be a pattern emerging for these on patch, with birds seen annually in late spring, no doubt en route to breeding grounds much further north.  Elsewhere around the patch were: 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Chough, 12 Sedge Warbler, 6 Wheatear, 2 White Wagtail, 1 Wigeon, 10 Whitethroat and 23 Willow Warblers.

For a few weeks in late May this year the answer was yes for all 6 species
Saturday the 24th May produced a good day total of 66 species, which included my first ever Rathlin Corncrake (97).  I sat on a nearby wall listening to its call as I ate lunch.  You could even hear it from the bar! (Or so I’m told).  A Mealy Redpoll was still doing the rounds in Church Valley and a good variety of other migrants and breeding species were noted, but included no further year ticks: 2 Chough, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Blackcap, 1 Dunlin, 1 Goldcrest, 12 Lesser Redpoll, 15 Sedge Warbler, 5 Wheatear, 9 Whitethroat and 25 Willow Warblers were the best of the rest.  I was also pleased to see that the patch Lapwing nested in a single colony this year.  Most of the 7 pairs present were guarding young during this visit.

The Corncrake was still present and singing away on 31st May, but as many of you will know, it wasn’t seen or heard of after this date thanks to a private helicopter landing in its preferred field.  You can read more about this story here.  Good numbers of common migrants were still on the move with day totals of 10 Sedge Warbler, 2 Blackcap, 12 Whitethroat and 21 Willow Warblers.

A couple of images from the Maritime Festival in late May
My next visit wasn’t until 1st August, when the only new bird for the year was a Kestrel (98).  Other early autumn migrants included over 100 House Martins above Church Bay and a flock of over 250 birds behind Mill Bay which included 100+ Linnets, 20 Lesser Redpolls, many Meadow Pipits and at least 2 Twite.

My latest visit took place on 6th September when I recorded my 144th patch species in the form of a Bar-tailed Godwit (99) in Mill Bay.  A high count of 17 Dunlin here had me on high alert for a Curlew Sand or Little Stint, but sadly not this time.  A couple of White Wagtails were scant consolation.

As there was a decent northerly breeze blowing, I spent some time around the Coastguard’s Hut hoping for a Lapland Bunting or Golden Plover on land, or some Brent Geese or a skua at sea.  However, the best on offer was a flock of 12 Snipe flying overhead, a few Skylarks on land and a handful of Manx Shearwaters offshore.  Elsewhere, good numbers of Swallows and House Martins were resting up on wires or feeding around the West Pier.  The gardens here had a few Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff.  Several Blackcaps were in the “Lesser Whitethroat” thicket. 

In other news, the pair of Chough successfully fledged 3 young and the Great Skua pair were also successful this year.  Though somehow the latter have evaded my year list thus far!  A pair of Whinchats were also confirmed breeding in the middle section of the island.  I also received news of a Red Kite which I missed earlier in the year.

Scores – 99 species, 123 points or 81.5%

By this stage last year I was on 112 species, so I’d better hope for an improved late autumn period this year to make up for it.

Monday, 14 July 2014

April, May & June at Kilcoole

Time to play catch up seeing as it’s been a while since I last blogged on progress at the Kilcoole patch. Here’s a rundown of how the Spring went…


The floodgates certainly opened with a flurry of (expected) migrants totalling 21 new patch year ticks that month alone. An increase in effort to make up for lost time in March certainly helped also. Friday 11th saw seven species added during a nice wee fall with 5 Chiffchaff, 13 Blackcap (species #98), 24 Willow Warbler (99), 10 Swallow (100), 7 Wheatear (101), finally connecting with Black Guillemot (102), 9 Sandwich Tern (103) and a Sand Martin (104).

Wednesday 16th added Sedge Warbler (105) and a female/immature type Marsh Harrier (106) at Blackditch East Coast Nature Reserve plus a Whimbrel (107) at Kilcoole to the list.

Marsh Harrier at ECNR. Another female/immature type was seen at Kilcoole on 17th June.

One of the most unexpected finds of year so far came on Monday 21st whilst trundling about in the birchwood at ECNR failing to locate any Woodcock. In the thick of the wood I could hear a goose calling overhead which sound like a high pitched White-front. I dashed about looking for a gap in the canopy and just about jammed in on getting a good view of the bird flying North… a Pink-footed Goose! (108). Some seawatching from Newcastle added a Common Tern (109), 21 Manx Shearwaters (110) and a dark phase Arctic Skua (111) with a single Common Sandpiper (112) later on at Kilcoole.

The next day saw 7 House Martins (113) and three singing male Reed Warblers (114) at Ballygannon along with 2 Little Terns (115) and the first migrating trio of Sanderling (116) at Kilcoole. A striking white-headed Cormorant day roosting at Newcastle that afternoon was confirmed as being a fine example of a sinensis (Continental) Cormorant by Killian Mullarney (thanks for getting the protractor out!). My first record of this taxa on patch.

sinensis Cormorant
Spring Golden Plover flocks in Webb's field looking well. No repeat of last years AGP unfortunately.

The final year ticks of the month came on 26th when doing some pre-Little Tern conservation project scoping of the beach with warden Andrew Power. The weather was horrendous and it was no great surprise that it pushed a superb group of 11 Arctic Terns (117) up along the beach. Once the rain cleared a stonking male Whinchat (118) popped up on the fence around the wardens camp in Webb’s field. Only my second patch record after getting the first here last August!

#patchgold Whinchat
April dips (birds seen by others): Ruff and Garganey at Kilcoole and a Mandarin Duck at ECNR (although perhaps not so worried about that last one!).


Most of May was spent out of the country surveying in Scotland or offshore on the R.V. Celtic Voyager and as such only managed five visits. Certainly missed out on my best chance for some high scoring rarities as May is definitely the best month on patch for picking up on these. Saying that, still got three year ticks so not a complete loss: the first Swifts (119) of the year and a flyover Yellow Wagtail (120) on 4th followed up by a 2nd calendar year Bar-tailed Godwit (121) in Webb’s field on 6th.

May dips (birds seen by others): a flyover Spoonbill and a Curlew Sandpiper at Kilcoole.


A total of ten days volunteering with the Little Tern conservation project during June culminated in no less than nine patch year ticks. Wednesday 4th got the scoring rhythm back in action with a Puffin (122) flying North during an early morning seawatch followed up by my third patch record of an OSPREY (123) which drifted South overhead between 10:35-10:50 and then to top the day off, a Kingfisher (124) on the channel alongside Webb’s field later that evening.

#patchgold Osprey
Blackditch East Coast Nature Reserve produced the goods with a reeling Grasshopper Warbler (125) in the fen on 15th and a triple whammy on 18th thanks to an early morning start for a CES session where a Spotted Flycatcher (126) was seen in the wood and a female Cuckoo (127) followed swiftly by a male Whitethroat (128) on the walk back along the coastal path afterwards. Later that evening I racked up the fourth patch year tick of the day with a cracking Storm Petrel (129) feeding very close in from The Breaches at 21:35. The next morning added Roseate Tern (130) to the list with a single adult flying North and a most welcome 2nd calendar-year Knot (131) which dropped into The Breaches that afternoon. A fine couple of days!

Reed Warbler caught & ringed at CES. One of eight recorded that day between Newcastle & ECNR. A good year for them on patch.
2cy Knot in The Breaches
The big dip in June came on Sunday 22nd when I was awoken by a flurry of texts and missed calls whilst in bed, suffering from the aftermath of social ‘engagements’ with some drouthy cronies in Dublin city centre. A fine 2nd calendar-year Laughing Gull nailed by local birder Cian Cardiff put in a brief appearance at The Breaches and was long gone by the time I got my act together and made it down that evening.

A Red Kite seen by Justin Ivory just outside the patch near Newcastle in late June gives hope that I will be adding it to the list soon enough.

June was also a particularly good month for other general wildlife sightings in the area with some highlights as follows: Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Poplar Hawkmoth, Small Elephant Hawkmoth, Garden Tiger, Buff-tip, Six Spot Burnet, Early Bumblebee, Cryptic Wood White, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Hairy Hawker, Emperor, Four-spotted Chaser, Common Darter, Variable Damselfly, Harbour Porpoise, Otter, Leisler’s Bat, Soprano Pipistrelle and Barrel Jellyfish (40 of which washed up in The Breaches on 16th).

Cryptic Wood White at ECNR
Hairy Hawker at ECNR
Barrel Jellyfish in The Breaches (pic by Anne-Lise Gerard)

So a PWC 2014 half time half score of 131 species & 169 points (83.25%) compares rather well with 136 species & 176 points by the end of June 2013 considering the amount of on site effort missed out on as a result of not working the Little Tern project as a full time warden.

Here's a few pics from my time spent volunteering with the Little Tern wardens so far this summer. Weather has generally been great and the chicks are certainly responding to it!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Spring roundup – Larne Lough

It was inevitable that the great run of rarities during the early part of the year would dry up, nevertheless 14 species have been added around the patch since my last update. This has included three more species of duck, but little in the way of surprises or high scorers.  The first Swallows had made it back by 12 April, House Martins returned by 22 April and the first Swifts of the year were seen on 3 May.  Once again Sand Martins failed to make an appearance on the patch, not that this was surprising considering I’ve never seen one in Larne!
The best find of the past couple of months was the second Kumlien’s Gull in as many weeks to put in a brief appearance at the Inver River.  A rather nice 1st winter bird was found loafing around there at low tide on 13 April.  This put me in the unusual position of trying to turn what was a fairly classic Kumlien’s into an Iceland Gull, having dipped on the latter species earlier in the year.
1st winter Kumlien's Gull, Inver River
I’m not sure if it’s always the case, or it’s thanks to my increased efforts this year, but I have been amazed at the number of ducks that have put in an appearance at Glynn Station thus far.  A pair of Gadwall were found on 16 April and were joined for a few weeks by two moulting males.  In between times the male Pintail appeared again, then went missing for a month only to reappear last week!  This made me wonder whether they might actually be breeding in the private lagoon at Glynn.  Next up on the duck front were a pair of Scaup found bobbing around distantly off the station on 26 April. A check of my records showed these were only my second ever on patch, following a female at the same location in February 2010.  My most recent addition to the year list, was also a second patch record in the form of 5 Pochard at Glynn Station on the unusual date of 23 June! That’s 11 species of duck seen this year from Glynn Station!


Gadwall, Scaup and Pochard all put in an appearance at Glynn Station

Elsewhere, I mopped up a few other spring migrants – a Common Sandpiper was at Sandy Bay on 17 April, Common Terns were arriving back to breed by 21 April and Sedge Warblers (maybe only 2 pairs on patch) were at Glynn from 30 April.  A distant feeding flock of Manx Shearwaters were seen from Sandy Bay on 23 April and the odd bird can be seen gliding by at sea most days at the moment.  No doubt en route to or from the Copeland Islands.  A nice summer plumaged Sanderling was new for the year at Sandy Bay on 5 May, but no sign of something more extravagant like a Curlew Sandpiper.
Following several failed attempts to see one of the Spotted Flycatchers that usually appear on patch around mid-May, a pair were finally seen on 22nd when they were observed collecting nest material along Glynn River.  I was beginning to think my prediction that Reed Buntings were likely to be encountered at Glynn Lagoon was going to fall flat on its face until a nice male was heard singing in the small reed bed there on 26 April.
Summer Sanderling and Dunlin, Sandy Bay

Spotted Flycatcher, Glynn River

The undoubted highlight of the late spring period was watching a pair of Roseate Terns courting off Glynn Station on 14 June.  It was great to welcome back what are normally Northern Ireland’s only breeding pair of this graceful seabird.  Let’s hope they manage to fledge young this year.

This patch birding malarkey fairly gets under your skin – I have even made a late evening venture in search of calling Long-eared Owl chicks but all I managed to find was a courting pair of different kind!  Most recently I managed to dip a Spotted Redshank, which becomes the second species I’ve missed on patch this year along with Iceland Gull.
So all in all, not a bad few months.  Thoughts turn now to seawatching and keeping my eye on wader passage.  The optimist in me thinks of large shearwaters and yank waders, but more realistic targets are Common Scoter, Bonxie and Knot…
Current score – 116 species or 148 points


Saturday, 3 May 2014

Rathlin Island - April Update

During April I managed four day trips to Rathlin Island and as was the case last spring, a nice trickle of migrants put in an appearance, which included 2 patch ticks, a great selection of raptors and no less than 25 year ticks!
On the first visit on 5 April, I spent some time hanging around the Coastguards Hut/Ballyconagan area in search of raptors which soon paid dividends when a female Hen Harrier (69) put on a show before flying high over the north cliffs being mobbed by Ravens.  Male Merlin (70) and Sparrowhawks (71) also put in appearances, as did a Peregrine and several Buzzards!  Also in this area were at least 3 Twite (72), including a singing male and several chipping Snipe, some of which were flushed by the hunting harrier. I’ve always liked the look of this area, you could just see something like a Gyr Falcon sitting on a post here one day… but for now I’m more than happy to have caught up with what was only my 2nd patch record of Hen Harrier; a species I managed to dip last year.
Elsewhere, a noticeable arrival of finches had taken place with several small flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets (73) bombing around the patch.  The gardens and hedges produced a small number of Willow Warblers (74) and Goldcrests (75) and a single Redwing by the pub.  The only other year tick of the day was a single Swallow (76) over the “walled garden” above Church Bay.

Totals, 5 April: 75+Goldfinch, 9 Goldcrest, 4 Chiffchaff, 12 Willow Warbler, 1 Hen Harrier, 3 Twite, 2 Chough, 14 Linnet, 1 Redwing, 1 Merlin, 3 Wheatear, 1 Swallow
The next visit on 18 April, was one of those days which keeps me coming back to Rathlin.  As ever, my first stop of the day was to the West Pier, where bobbing about amongst the seals, were 3 Common Sandpipers (77).  Then in Church Valley, one sallow bush had about 15 Willow Warblers in it! Elsewhere in the valley were 2 Blackcaps (78), numerous Wheatears and 3 Lesser Redpolls (79). During the walk towards the East Light, a flock of about 10 Brent Geese (80) were seen heading west out at sea.  I made my way down to the top of the cliffs behind the lighthouse wall and took up position for a seawatch.  Streams of Gannets and large auks were moving west and Black-headed Gulls and Kittiwakes were milling around and feeding at the base of the cliffs.  Eventually a few Manx Shearwaters (81) were seen, but there was no sign of the hoped for Puffins.
Lower section of Church Valley

Willow Warbler

I was about to head back down the track towards the east end gardens, when something made me head over to scan the sea through the gully just to the west of the lighthouse compound.  As soon as I arrived at the fence, an enormous shape flushed from a ledge on the cliff face just yards below me, I watch as it made several lumbering wing beats and dropped in height, before rising up to eye level, turning left and cruising along the top of the cliffs in side on profile - a GOLDEN EAGLE (82)!  I made it to be a sub-adult as it had a few remnants of white in its upper tail feathers.  This is my 2nd patch record, following a near adult seen on 15 April, 2012. Unfortunately, a full-pelt steeplechase along the cliff tops failed to produce any further sign of the bird, so I didn’t manage any photos of this one. Or indeed see any Puffins.
There is a nice vantage point overlooking the east end gardens, where I stood in a bit of a daze for a while and made some half-hearted attempts to scan the gardens, when a Stonechat popped up onto the fence ahead of me, I didn’t even put the bins on it until it flew off showing a white rump! It stopped briefly on the fence at the other side of the field – a cracking male Whinchat (83), a patch tick no less! It was in exactly the same field I saw a Yellow Wagtail last spring.

My day got even better when the rapidly drying out Ballycarry Pool, finally produced a “different” duck in the form of a drake Gadwall (84) alongside a female Wigeon and 6 Teal.  This was the second patch tick of the day and shows there is hope yet to find what I’d really like to see here (e.g. Garganey or Green-winged Teal).
Elsewhere, the first White Wagtails of the year were seen in Mill Bay and House Martins (85) and Sand Martins (86) were new in at Ushet Lough.
Totals, 18 April: 10 Brent Geese, 4 Chiffchaff, 70+ Willow Warbler, 3 Common Sandpiper, 1 Chough, 23 Linnet, 25 Goldfinch, 3 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Merlin, 25+ Swallow, 40+ Wheatear, 5 Manx Shearwater, 1 Golden Eagle, 1 Whinchat, 2 Blackcap, 1 Gadwall, 1 Wigeon, 3 White Wagtail, 3 House Martin, 5 Sand Martin
I was joined on my next visit on 20 April by my father and things got off to a bright start, with 2 Twite feeding in Ballycastle Harbour before the ferry across.  Once on the island, things were lively enough in Church Valley, with a Woodpigeon (87) bolting out of the trees and the first Sedge Warbler (88) of the year bursting into song.  Migrant numbers elsewhere were much lower than on the last visit and the day was eventually saved by a nice male Grey Wagtail (89) feeding in a mound of manure at the back of Mill Bay.  The day ended with a few pints in the bar.
Early Purple Orchid

House Sparrow nesting above the pub door!
Totals, 20 April (North half only): 30+ Willow Warbler, 4 Common Sandpiper, 1 Chough, 1 Woodpigeon, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Sedge Warbler, 15 Wheatear, 2 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 10+ Swallow, 3 White Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail
It was back to full patch birding mode on 27 April, which started with a memorable ferry crossing in flat calm conditions through hundreds of Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills and the occasional Puffin or Manx Shearwater.  The Puffins (90) were officially added to the year list later that day from Ushet Port.
Church Valley was again full of phyllosc warblers and it wasn’t long before a reeling Grasshopper Warbler (91) and 2 singing Whitethroats (92) were seen.  Redpolls have been much less prevalent this spring, with virtually all records being of flyover birds, but a group of 7 Lesser Redpolls were seen here today.  Numbers of Sedge Warblers and White Wagtails were also up to 13 and 9 respectively this visit. 
Once again, waders are conspicuous on the year list by their near absence, so it was great to finally add Dunlin (93) and Whimbrel (94) for the year at Mill Bay.  A flock of 30 or more Rock Pipits feeding in a field here were noteworthy and no doubt would have contained a littoralis or two if it weren’t for them all being heavily back lit.
All was it should be down at Ushet Lough, with breeding Common Gulls, Lapwings and Oystercatchers on territory and making a right din. Sand Martins look like using the same breeding site as last year in the cliffs at Doon Bay.  The small group of pines at the south end of the lake held a very dull acredula type Willow Warbler.
Ushet Lough
Totals, 27 April: 2 Chiffchaff, 38 Willow Warbler, 11+ Swallow, 13 Sedge Warbler, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 2 Common Whitethroat, 1 Merlin, 1 Whimbrel, 20 Wheatear, 1 House Martin, 2 Chough, 3 Dunlin, 9 White wagtail, 10+ Sand Martin
So the month ends on 94 species (1 more than at this stage last year), 116 points or 76.8%