Friday, 31 January 2014

Nearly birds – Larne Lough, January

The New Year got off to a rather sodden start, but a steady 57 species were tallied on the first day of January.  The best of which included 5 Purple Sandpipers at Sandy Bay and 5 Red-throated Divers from Chaine Park seawatch hut, but best of all was a Treecreeper in the Town Park; a species I had failed to locate during atlas fieldwork here.  However, the month will best be remembered for a couple of “nearly birds” – one a hybrid goose, the other, a Glossy Ibis which remains tantalisingly outside the patch boundary to this day.
The old seawatch hut - Fulmar, Kittiwake and Gannet so far
As usual for the patch it was not difficult to find a Mediterranean Gull, with a 2nd winter bird at Sandy Bay on 6th the first to make it onto the year list. Throughout the month at least 4 Med Gulls were regularly encountered around the patch (1st year, 2nd year and 2 adults). Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long to add Goosander to the list either, with a female off Glynn Station on 2nd.  Owing to the rough weather during the month, Great Northern Divers were unusually common around the patch with a regular bird at the Inver River for much of the second half of the month.  A 1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gull was seen here on 10th.
Med Gull, Sandy Bay

On the 21st around 600 small gulls were seen going to roost at sea off Sandy Bay.  Since then, this number has doubled but so far hasn’t produced anything decent.
Among the joys of doing a home town patch are the ability to make regular checks at key sites and take the chance to twitch other people’s birds (though I’d much prefer not to).  Take the 24th as an example, just before I switched off the work laptop to head out for lunch, a cursory check of irishbirding said a couple of Twite had been seen the day before at the north end of the patch at Waterloo Bay.  Within 10 minutes I was watching them feeding along the shore.
Patch Twite (honest)
Of course these things can also work against you. For example on 25th I spent most of the day around the patch, including two visits to Sandy Bay seeing very little.  When I got home that evening someone had reported an Iceland Gull there.
The main shenanigans of the month took place on 19th, when several text messages arrived mid-morning – a Glossy Ibis had been found a short distance south of Glynn, though sadly well outside the patch boundary.  Nevertheless, this bird was duly twitched, but somehow I also managed to add 4 patch year ticks that afternoon.  On my way to the Ibis, a Sparrowhawk flew across the road near Glynn Lagoon and a flock of Greylag Geese were seen drifting around above. After enjoying good views of the Ibis, I returned for a look off Glynn Station to see if the Greylags had landed there – they hadn’t, but a Carrion Crow was making a show of itself just below the platform.  I managed to locate the Greylag flock at the private lagoon at Glynn and amongst them sat the hybrid Snow/Ross’s x Barnacle Goose which had been knocking about the lough for a few days, in between appearances on the local news! Of course zero points can be claimed for the goose, but a couple of Tufted Ducks here were more than welcome.
Views of Glynn Lagoon (birders welcome at this one)
The final addition to the year list was seen late this afternoon (31st) as yet another unsuccessful check of the gulls at Sandy Bay outfall was enlivened by a fly by Peregrine.  So nothing major was encountered during the month but as we enter February a few (thousand) gulls are due to arrive and will be getting my full attention.
Score: 79 species or 93 points


All the 6's

Since my last posting on 3rd Jan I've been slowly but surely ticking off the species, adding 14.  It's nice to get a few 'sure things' out of the way this early with Treecreeper on 11th, Common Scoter on 12th, Med Gull and Little Egret  on 16th and Great Crested Grebe on 25th.  Best of the bunch was a second winter Ring-billed Gull on 17th among the c.400 Common Gulls.  Two Dunlin battling against the gales this morning brought me up to 64 species, 78 points and, most importantly 66.66%.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Old Head of Kinsale - Mark Shorten

I have being birding the Old Head of Kinsale since about 1975 when I found my first "rarity" - two Ring Ouzels. It was where I learned much of my birding. I have done winter and breeding atlas there, brought my current wife on our first birding date and fought against the construction of the Golf Club (and did a tiny bit of vandalism) so I reckon I can call it my patch.
Looking for migrants can be an exercise in frustration as with little cover there, birds move through quickly. Often during migration I only check a limited number of areas, mainly through time constraints (drop kids to school - run to Old Head run back to collect from school). Hopefully I will spread my birding out in terms of times and areas checked.
The Old Head has a nice variety of birding offerings:
  • sea watching can be superb, though access is by permit through the Golf Club.
  • a seabird colony with hundreds of Guillemots 
  • Mixed farmland with a reasonable amount of arable and a small amount of tillage.
  • There is little cover in most of the gardens, few trees and most hedgerows are sparse.
  • Two very busy beaches with small numbers of Dunlins, Ring Plover and Sanderling
  • Behind the beaches are two reed beds with small amounts of open water.
  • Old Head harbour a rocky area which is the best area for waders.
So far by 9th January and with 4 visits I am on 62 species 72 points. Highlights being Gadwall, Golden Plover and 3 Brent Geese - a patch tick. For the year a minimum of 120 I hope, to get 150 would be amazing. We will see.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Ticking along

After a morning in Tacumshin I stopped off for a few hours at Cahore. Another glorious day of sunshine and calm weather. A water rail calling in the willows by the car park eluded me and aparently larger numbers of duck failed to produce anything of note. Shoveller and pintail numbers were definately up. A merlin and juv peregrine, presumably the same birds as last week were also on show. Surprise of the day was a pristine marsh harrier quatering the central reedbed. In 2011 and 2012 a single marsh harrier has been seen for one day only in late spring/summer so it was great to get this so early and hopefully it will hang around for the of the winter atleast.
The marsh harrier was the only new bird of the day, hope to make it down again during the week. The white rump on the upper photo was present on the bird, but very small. It looks a lot larger in the photo due to strong light and the head is in shadow. It definately was a marsh and hopefully the bottom pic shows that now!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

From Russia With Love...

With a break in the weather forecast for today, myself and Oran O'Sullivan set out to conduct the monthly I-WeBS count along the 'North Wicklow Coastal Marshes'. Oran to start at Broad Lough and work North whilst I'd start at Kilcoole and head South.

Just before the count began, I had a look around the Northern boundaries of the patch from Kilcoole Sea Road/train station, peering into distant stubble fields & scanning hedges with the scope. This paid off with 10+ Redwing, a male Yellowhammer, Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, 15+ Stock Doves & a dreaded Feral Pigeon (a bird which put me through much hardship trying to see last year) all noted along with a host of common species. A Grey Wagtail on the rocks at Kilcoole train station was another good scarce patch passerine to get on the scoresheet from the off.

The Icelandic Greylag Goose flock (260 birds) have been frequenting a grass field quite close to the road, just inland of the BirdWatch Ireland Kilcoole Reserve of late, offering great views. Sure enough they were still there this morning and low & behold what was with them but a White-fronted Goose...and not just any old WFG, but a Russian (European) White-fronted Goose! Patch tick! (well, patch subspecies tick). It's been many years since the last record of albifrons at Kilcoole/Newcastle & I've only ever seen two before myself, both on the North Slob in Wexford. Delighted with this find to say the least.

1st-winter Russian (European) White-fronted Goose

Offshore, plenty of divers were still present (85+ Red-throated & 2 Great Northern) and 6 Common Scoter flew South but little else of note other than a single adult Gannet. The lagoon in Webb's field has flooded out to just the right level meaning that the area was alive with Teal (350), Wigeon (400), Curlew (150) & Lapwing (450) along with a couple of patch scarcities like Greenshank & Grey Plover. The Breaches estuary was full to the brim & bizarrely another Great Northern Diver was present in here, happily fishing away! Never seen a diver (or rare grebe for that matter) in the estuary before.

Great Northern Diver in The Breaches

The beach took a hammering from the recent tidal surges with many sections of sand dune washed over, sand & stones now replacing them. This includes the Little Tern colony site and it will be interesting to see if the terns & Ringed Plover avail of the new habitat further up the beach away from the (usual) high tide line. 

Whilst checking out the new layout of the tern colony site I flushed a male Snow Bunting! Nice views on the deck as it associated with a couple of Skylarks.

Storm driven re-profiling of the beach & dunes at the Little Tern colony site

The airstrip at Newcastle has flooded also, attracting in a large flock of gulls. Among these were an adult Mediterranean Gull & a rather poorly looking Kittiwake. The Crane then appeared out of nowhere flying South over the farmland soon after which the male Hen Harrier cruised past heading North. All go!

The coastal flashes at Blackditch ECNR held 41 Shoveler & 76 Black-tailed Godwits and a quick scoot around the woodland paths revealed no Woodcock (determined to get one there this year). The day was then capped off nicely with some much better views of the Crane on the deck & a female/immature Merlin.


An absolutely superb first full days birding around the Kilcoole patch resulting in 79 species, 96 points & 47.29%. And still missed out on a few 'easy' species like Black Guillemot, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Kestrel, Buzzard etc...

Take home lesson for the day: do more volunteer'll see some great birds in the process!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Fine-tooth combing

I have been searching every nook and cranny of my patch in the last couple of days trying to root out species that took me months to find last year and, despite the howling gales, it has been paying off with 14 species added. 
Nothing of any great note was seen but I am amazed at the lack of House Sparrows. I have had just two, whereas, I have found three flocks of Tree Sparrows. 
I'm happy to have Long-tailed Tit, Little Gull, Med Gull and Yellowhammer 'out of the way' as these proved tricky last year.
It is nearly time for me to go into hibernation until April but I have yet to see Raven, Kestrel, LBB Gull, Black Guillemot, Redwing, Fieldfare and Feral pigeon so I can't rest yet.

77 species, 88 points, 59.8%

Monday, 6 January 2014

Carrick Mountain 2013 - a year of looking up!

Carrick Mountain 2013 - a year of looking up! 
Alan Lauder 

Well that was a bit of fun eh! I ended the year on my Carrick Mountain patch on 64 spp/69 points and just over 125%. The rule change for 2014 that makes 2013 the baseline year in future reflects my own experiences pretty well. Spend a bit more effort on the patch, go to a couple of new corners and spend a lot of time looking skyward and the extra effort will be rewarded. I seriously doubt 2014 will see the same kind of comparative score. 

Starting the year I thought I might make 60 species so 64 was a very good result and I now feel that 2014 could go a species or two better with a bit of luck. 

I started 2013 with the usual run of common garden, woodland and farmland species with the highlights being a Great Spotted Woodpecker on 19th January (which eventually turned into a garden regular and is still visiting almost daily in 2014) and the first of many Red Kite sightings on the 3rd January. Some other nice species to “get out of the way” which can be a bit thin on the ground or unpredictable on the patch were Yellowhammer, Fieldfare and Feral Pigeon all of which amount to fewer than 3 sightings each for the year.   

By the end of March the total had reached 46 species and included patch gold in the form of Jack Snipe flushed from a heathery depression near the highest point on the last day of March. 
Summer migrants came in through April and May though it took until the end of May to get Swift and it was July before I got Spotted FlycatcherI never did find a site for Sedge Warbler…maybe in 2014? 
My bedroom window stayed wide open through the night-time heat in July and early August and paid off with migrant waders calling as they passed overhead, both Curlew and Oystercatcher fell to that and I hope in 2014 something better might be on the cards. 

After July only 8 more species were added; Treecreeper, Linnet and Kestrel were late comers to the party, Crossbills in the forest had been absent but a party of 9 in October ended an unexpected drought for a normally more regular species on the patch. Fly-over Little Egret and Cormorant came in November with the former being seen on at least 3 mornings within a week commuting up the valley at the same time each day.  The year ended with good numbers of gulls flying inland over the patch through December and among the hundreds of Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, a few GBB Gulls filled a gap in the list. The bonus came on the very last day of the year when an exceptional movement of Common Gulls at first light was accompanied by a gleaming single adult Mediterranean Gull – a great way to end the year!   

Writing this on the 5th January, the list for 2014 stands at around 30 so far, the woodpecker is already on and I’m looking at fly over gulls daily! Gaps in 2013 which I’d hope to fill in 2014 include Peregrine, Sedge Warbler, Stonechat and Snipe and I’d like to add some more fly-overs!  

Best of luck to all for 2014! 

Great Spotted Woodpecker - a patch regular

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Cahore marsh, off to a flier.

Short eared owl, one of 2 flushed infront of us by a hunting party

Decided to give the patchbirding a go this year. Will work an area from Cahore point south to the lake with Shane Farrell. Last years tally was 147ish, highlights included citrine wagtail, melodious warbler, several yellow wags, 3 pecs, 4 little ringed plovers, American wigeon, green-winged teal amongst a great selection of waders, passers and a few seabirds. A montague's harrier was the only rarity bop wise but the area must get a few hobbies.

A woodcock flying over the road just before we got onto the patch was a mixed start, it would be a full patch tick, so close, surely it was as close as we would get? But late afternoon a hunting party party flushed one almost into our laps as we sat on a ridge over looking marsh. It landed in cover beside us and with the camera ready to go, I took a few steps closer and out it exploded! The hounds also sent two short eared owls past us, adding to a great day list of bops. Kestrel, peregrine, merlin, sparrowhawk and a tagged hen harrier got all the regulars out of the way without a fight. A great crested grebe flying north over the sea could have been a tricky species and was the best a short sea watch produced.

A day list of 62 was a good start, great weather and some great views of all the birds.

Woodcock, first patch tick of 2014!

Nice to see you – Visit 1

Got my 2014 account up and running on Rathlin yesterday (4 January) and despite an utter soaking, I managed a respectable 50 species during the day.  It was pleasing to see that many of the good birds seen on my last visit some 6 weeks ago were still present. This included single Long-tailed Ducks and Goldeneye in the Harbour, a female Pochard at Ally Lough and up to 5 Great Northern Divers off the West Pier.  The only surprises of the day were a second Long-tailed Duck off Mill Bay, alongside a female Common Scoter and a flock of 5 Whooper Swans flying north off Doon Bay.

More than 85 Greylags flew in to roost at Ushet Lough in the late afternoon, but still did not contain anything more unusual.  On my first visit last year I recorded 51 species, so I’m happy enough with a similar start this year.
I’ll leave you with this geektastic graph showing my accumulation of year ticks on Rathlin last year. It doesn’t show us birders anything we don’t already know, but highlights just what a pathetic autumn I had.
Score - 50 species, 60 points or 39.7%

Graph of the year at this stage...

Friday, 3 January 2014

What's another year......

I didn't post much in the second half of last year simply because I didn't see much. In fact, I only added one species in the last four months of the year!
I gave it socks in the last two days and managed to see 68 species which I am quite happy about. Already I have seen Grey Wagtail and Shoveler, neither of which I saw last year. The Shoveler was floating about at sea with a big flock of Common Scoter which was quite bizarre.
Thankfully the Snow Buntings are still around as is the Ruff that has been around for while and the Long-tailed Ducks. I also had two Chiffchaffs yesterday.
Nothing else of note but a nice start, despite the howling gales today and the fact that I could not get to the beach as the road was flooded. That is the first time I have ever seen this.

P.S. I found a Woodcock's wing. Do I get half a point ????

68 species, 77 points, 52%.

Big brutes

Just the one species added yesterday but it was yet another full fat patch tick - Glaucous Gull.  With little in the way of gull roosts and a complete lack of fishing boats  the chances of getting one were not good but I reckoned I might get a flyby someday.

Still a pretty stiff onshore wind today so back out for more sea-watching and was rewarded with a surprise Bonxie.

That makes four species already that I didn't see last year.  50 species, 57 points, 48.72%.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Dirty Filthy Twitching!

A shameless twitch was the order of the day to connect with the CRANE found by John Fields between Newcastle & Kilcoole. It was on show (distantly) in the back fields behind the airfield this afternoon but later gave nice flight views as it relocated further inland & out of sight.

A fine way to start off the year list!

Just a quick visit so not much birding done otherwise. Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Red-throated Divers, Kittiwake, 15 Stock Doves, Mistle Thrush, Long-tailed Tit etc. all noted anyway to get the ball rolling.

Back down at the weekend for some proper effort.

Obligatory dodgy record shot!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

North Wexford - Kilmichael/Kilpatrick/Kilgorman - Jan 1st

I was never going to be able to compete with the likes of Ballycotton or Belmullet or even Kilcoole/Newcastle in terms of number of species but, now that we're able to use 2013 for a comparative score, the playing field is much more level.  Like Niall, I decided to battle through the elements to make a start for the new year.

I drove to Kilpatrick beach first to seawatch and quickly got Gannet, Kittiwake and the expected gulls.  Surprisingly, there wasn't a diver to be seen.  I could always expect a few scattered along the coast.  I decided to have a look at Kilgorman Marsh and picked up Moorhen, Grey Heron and Mallard in a flooded field along the way.  The marsh produced Teal, Wigeon and Snipe as well as two full fat patch ticks, Shoveler and Little Grebe.  A quick look at Kilgorman beach produced a distant auk on the sand spit.  With three Brunnichs in GB, my heart went into optimistic overdrive but unfortunately it was not to be - just an exhausted Guillemot.  Decided it was time for lunch so drove slowly back home along the sea road and was rewarded with 4 Little Gulls.

The afternoon brightened up a bit so walked to Kilmichael Point but only added Stonechat and Reed Bunting.  Headed home and decided to walk down the road and picked up one of the resident Collared Doves and Song Thrush.  Just as I got home I noticed a flock of birds coming in off the sea - Lapwings.

So despite the weather it was a reasonable start to the new year with 45 species, 49 points and 41.88%.

South Dublin Parks: New Years Day

Started up a new, non-comparative local patch birding site for PWC2014 today, three suburban parks close to home (South Dublin Parks - Kilbogget, Cabinteely & Clonkeen). A site synopsis can be found here.

It was absolutely chucking it down first thing this morning. Ideal for gulls on the sports pitches at Kilbogget! So I donned the wellies & wet gear and battled out the door. Well worth it in the end as there was a nice mixed flock of 128 Oystercatcher, 180+ Black-headed Gull, 28 Mediterranean Gull, 48 Herring Gull, 13 Great Black-backed Gull, 9 Common Gull & a 3rd-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull feeding away on invertebrates flushed to the surface of the grasslands. The Oyc count was an all time high for the site as far as I know & the LBBGull was a good one to get in winter.

Kilbogget gulls & Oycs
The wetland at Kilbogget held 18 Teal, 2 Coot, 3 Little Grebes and best of all a Cormorant (infrequently seen here). Continued on in the rain to Clonkeen to check the pitches & river there. Much quieter with Little Egret & Grey Wagtail added plus another couple of Med Gulls.

Little Eejit
After a hearty New Years Day fry up & pot of tea back home, the rain cleared and I headed back out to Kilbogget to look for common passerines which would hopefully be out & about after such dismal conditions. Bullfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Lesser Redpoll, Greenfinch, Linnet etc. were all found with ease and a female Blackcap spiced things up. A short break daydreaming/staring blankly at the wetland resulted in a fortuitous glimpse of a Water Rail flying across the water from an island into some bullrush. Result! There's been at least one in here for the past couple of winters but I wasn't expecting to get it this early on in the game.

Then popped over to Cabinteely Park in the afternoon and jammed in on a Fieldfare (by no means guaranteed around here) & a nice flock of 15 Redwing as well as the resident Mute Swan & another Little Egret on the pond.

Digi-binned Fieldfare
Cabinteely Park pond
All in all a great start to my local element of PWC2014 with 47 species clocked up (50 points). The target for the year is about 70 species so likely to slow down considerably from here on in but I didn't get any raptors, Siskin, Treecreeper, Collared Dove etc. today so at least there's something left for future visits!