Sunday, 30 March 2014

Not so Mad March

Just a quick update. Only managed a couple of visits to Kilcoole during March since my last post on the Tree Sparrow patch ticking bonanza so nothing major to report on.

The brent flock finally produced an adult bernicla on 8th March, the first Dark-bellied Brent I've seen there all winter (normally one regular bird about most years). Otherwise, a nice ringtail Hen Harrier was the only other species of note that day.

Adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose

Back down again on 15th March with the BirdWatch Ireland Kildare Branch. An enthusiastic gang of 30 or so participants enjoyed nice views of singing Skylarks, displaying Lapwing, hovering male Kestrel, five soaring Buzzards, a super flock of c.180 Golden Plover (some developing nice black underparts) and plenty of Light-bellied Brent Geese, Greylag Geese & Whooper Swans. Also scored my first migrant of the year during the outing, a Chiffchaff (97) singing quietly away in the Sea Buckthorn. No sign of any of the hoped for Wheatears on the day but it was good to meet up with and chat general patch nonsense(!) with fellow PWC participant, Michael O'Donnell.

Kildare Branch outing © Caroline McDonald

Have been offshore this past week, seabird surveying on board the R.V. Celtic Explorer during the annual Blue Whiting Acoustic Survey but will be back on patch come mid-April to clean up on Spring migrants (hopefully!).

Until then... 97 species, 123 points, 60.59% comparative score, 790 BirdTrack records & 15 complete lists.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Coliemore - 24th of March

After a slightly ambitious attempt last year, I went with a smaller patch for this year. My intent is to focus on seawatching from Coliemore, as well as picking up a migrant or two in Dylan's Park. Having got Sooty Shearwater and a few Skuas from here last year, the main targets are Black Tern, Sabine's Gull and with a little bit of luck hopefully a Long-tailed Skua or Grey Phalarope.

The Patch
Met Eireann had forecast some nice south-easterlies for Monday and (for once) they were right - winds averaging around F5 to 6, gusting up 30+ knots at times... and good amounts of rain. Unfortunately it proved to be a rather quiet afternoon:

-Fulmar..................(31 south)
-Gannet .................(1 north/18 south)
-Kittiwake .............(1 north/48 south)
-Guillemot ..............(7 south)
-Ra/Gu ..................(12 south)
-Black Guillemot ....(4 north)
-Oystercatcher .......(4 south)
-Turnstone ..............(1 south)
-Purple Sandpiper ..(4 south)

Also present but not counted were Common Gull, Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull. Birds on the islands included two more GBBG's, plus some Shags and Cormorants on Maiden Rock, with Lamb Island hosting 3 each of Herring and GBB Gull and 46 Cormorants/Shags. A Pied Wagtail fed around the viewpoint at Coliemore Harbour. That gives a total of 14 species so far. Hopefully things will pick up a bit with tyhe easterly winds expected over the weekend and into next week.

Seawatching Hours: 2
Total: 2

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Winter meets Spring - Rathlin Visit 3

I made use of the early morning ferry to Rathlin on Friday 21st March to spend the entire day slogging around the patch in search of year ticks and early spring migrants.  As is typical for this time of year, there was a nice mix of wintering stragglers and incoming breeders, which resulted in a further 11 species being added to the year list (including all 4 predicted at the end of my last post).
The Long-tailed Duck continued its long-term residency in the harbour alongside a male Red-breasted Merganser.  From the West Pier 2 Chough (58) were seen tumbling along the cliff tops in the strong SW winds.  The gull contingent in Mill Bay now included the first Black-headed (59) and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (60) of the year and a single Great Northern Diver remained offshore. 
Craigmacagan Lough once again produced some of the highlights of the day.  Whilst scanning the water, I heard Redwings (61) calling overhead and looked up to see 4 birds land on a nearby gorse bush before quickly disappearing. A male Reed Bunting (62) was calling from the reed bed, one of at least 6 males seen during the day.  As I approached the cattle grid at the south end of the lough, I noticed a bird scuttling across the track just a few yards in front of me.  Before I had even raised my bins I knew it was a Water Rail; it was that close (63)!  Nevertheless, this did provide a pleasant flashback to my day in the sun on Saltee a few years back!  The bird scrambled towards the nearest ditch, allowing just enough time to get a pic on the phone.  It’s always a treat to see this species out in the open.

Water Rail
Twice more between Craigmacagan and Ushet Loughs I saw pairs of Chough flying by, each time carrying nesting material.  It’s impossible to tell if today’s sightings relate to more than 2 birds - perhaps this was just the regular breeding pair performing an elaborate courtship flight across the entire length of the island!
A small number of Lapwing (64) have once again returned to Ushet Lough and as I watched these flying around, a Snipe (65) flushed from nearby.  I only realised this was a year tick when checking through my Birdtrack records earlier today! Also at Ushet were lots of gulls and Oystercatchers noisily setting up territories for the breeding season.  A male Goldeneye was on the water.
Ushet Lough
I had planned to walk down to the South Light, but upon seeing waves crashing against the cliffs, sending spray higher than the lighthouse, I decided against it.  Instead, I walked the sheltered coastline between Ushet Port and Doon Bay.  In amongst the many sandy inlets and pools here were 60+ Teal and over 30 Shelduck. As I watched 4 Buzzards hovering high above the cliffs, a Peregrine (66) hurtled by overhead, causing a commotion amongst the nearby Common Gulls.  I finally connected with my target bird for this stretch of coast at Doon Bay – 2 male Wheatears (67) seen skipping from boulder to boulder ahead of me.  Much in the same location as the first birds last spring!
I also checked the East Light gardens, then found myself up by the coastguards hut and had a quick search of Church Valley.  Only one further surprise was on offer – a single Chiffchaff (68) flitting about the willows by the Church.  Also of note was a great swarm of Meadow Pipits seen flying across the valley here.
Scores 68 species, 81 points or 53.6%

Friday, 21 March 2014

Patch Introduction - Holy Cross & Carriganore, Waterford

The Patch!
I have been following the Patchwork Challenge on Twitter and reading the blogs and decided that it was time to get involved! I had planned to enter a Waterford coastal patch but a new baby at home means time is limited this year. So to plan B.
Daily walks with my two dogs at a popular site just outside Waterford City (an IDA business park) has become my patch over the last 5 or so years. It's not the most productive or picturesque of patches but a lot of time spent here has seen me build up the patch list to 70 species. For the purpose of the challenge I have extended the patch boundary to the north to include the nearby area of Carriganore (site of WIT Sports Campus and also the National Biodiversity Data Centre) 
The patch comprises of 6 or 7 large fields divided by mixed hedgerow/gorse and mature trees, a small conifer plantation, a reed lined pond and a stubble field in winter. The area at Carriganore has a small wooded area and views over the River Suir which I hope will produce some bonus species over the course of the year.
The area has provided many birding highlights over the last 5 years. December 2012 produced 5 Waxwings and a week later in January 2013 I found a Brambling feeding in the stubble field with a mixed finch flock (the only bird on the patch that was "twitched" by local birders!) A brief Reed Warbler in August 2011 remains the only patch record. Wheatears have become regular in September/October over the past few years. Confirmed breeding of both Treecreepers and Spotted Flycatchers last summer was satisfying. Other notable birds have included singles of Whooper Swan and Whitethroat. 
The Pond - breeding Moorhen, Sedge Warbler & Reed Bunting can be found here most years

My main aim this year is to track down the species I feel should be on the patch list but have eluded me over the years - Siskin, Yellowhammer & Pheasant are top of my wish list!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Tree Sprog delight & some dodgy Geese

Total patch tick today! TREE SPARROW! (no. 203 for patch life list, no. 96 for PWC2014 year list)

Stephen McAvoy found a Tree Sparrow at a farmyard along Newcastle Sea Road during the Wicklow Bird Race last Saturday. Thanks to some excellent directions & a wee map scribbled down on a sheet of paper I was able to rock up this morning, scope the exact section of hedge and sure enough there it was in the company of two Yellowhammers. Class! Now, this farmyard is on what I consider my patch in any normal year but given the 3km² range constraint of PWC it sat well outside the scoring boundary. So I duly made the most of the 'seen from the patch' rule, scoping the farmyard from a carefully chosen spot on the inland side of the PWC boundary and sure enough there it was... still present as a brown blob with the two yellow blobs! Real Galley Head style tactics this. 

Elsewhere on the marsh, the Russian White-fronted Goose was with c.215 Icelandic Greylag Geese, c.785 Light-bellied Brent Geese & 50 Whooper Swans in Webb's field. A ringtail Hen Harrier, Merlin, adult Mediterranean Gull, 2 Gadwall, Greenshank & Grey Wagtail were the best of the rest.

Russian White-fronted Goose

There was also this curious Brent among the hrota flock which has doubled in size in recent weeks (typical for March, may get up to 1,000 birds come mid month). It superficially showed some pro Grey-bellied Brant features such as the smooth brown chest & belly with evenly spaced dark 'claw marks' on upper rear flanks (giving a ghost of a Black Brant pattern), slightly darker upperparts compared to surrounding birds & obviously dirty brown colouration extending beyond legs. However, the collar was only as thick on the sides as can be shown by some hrota (it had a completely dark throat from what I could see) and the length of the uppertail coverts seemed 'normal'. Never saw it close enough for a proper look so best leave it be for now (hopefully it'll stick around for better views).

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Dinger of a Ringer

Put a good bit of effort in on the Kilcoole patch through February to make up for lost time on account of playing cat & mouse with the weather on the R.V. Celtic Explorer for 2 weeks during the latter half of January.

The undoubted highlight of the past month was finding an adult RING-BILLED GULL on the coastal fields at ECNR on the afternoon of 20th Feb, among a decent sized flock of 130 Common Gulls (starting to build in numbers here these past few weeks). The Ringer was my 3rd patch record and the first since 1997! Despite having seen 7 other Ringers between Nimmo's, Sandymount & Wexford Harbour in previous weeks, it was a buzz picking up this one! A real #patchgold moment.

Adult Ring-billed Gull @ ECNR coastal fields

Another surprise was the RUSSIAN WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE found on 8th Jan which made a sudden reappearance with the Greylag flock at Newcastle on 28th Feb. I wonder where it has been all this time?

To make the most of the manky winds & rain over the past few weeks, I tried my hand at some winter seawatching from the train station platform at Kilcoole (highest vantage point available). This payed real dividends in the form of a breeding plumaged Great Crested Grebe flying North on 20th Feb. A species I missed out on in 2013. A decent passage of 390 Kittiwakes South in 1 hour on 25th Feb also had a nice adult Little Gull tagging along with them. Other than that, small numbers of Fulmars & Gannets, 5 flyby Common Scoter, a single Mediterranean Gull and the 2 Great Northern Divers still in their usual spot were the best of the rest. Red-throated Divers, auks & Shags have become really scarce recently. I reckon the continuous turbulent seas may have changed the dynamics of the feeding setup? The biggest effect of this has been my inability to add Black Guillemot to the patch year list through Jan & Feb. Normally an easy species to get here!

You may not seawatch beyond the yellow line!
Webb's field & lagoon flooded nicely after a period of heavy rain offering some great feeding and attracting in goodies like Greenshank, a Grey Plover with 94 Golden Plover & a pair of Gadwall. Numbers of other wintering species peaked at 286 Icelandic Greylag Geese, 545 Light-bellied Brent Geese, 15 Shelduck, 35 Oystercatchers, 49 Redshank & 106 Dunlin. Most impressive of all was a flock of c.750 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, the most I've ever seen on site. Surprisingly there wasn't a single Barwit with them! The Shoveler have really taken well to the flooded coastal fields at ECNR with 68 counted there on 28th Feb.

Webb's field & lagoon

Birding the farmland around the edges of the patch resulted in Treecreeper being added to the list, quite a few Yellowhammers & Stock Doves and several common Raptors along with adult male & juv female Peregrine, juv Merlin and male & ringtail Hen Harrier hunting on the marsh too. A Carrion Crow found at ECNR by patch interloper Dave Suddaby was a welcome addition to the list on 28th Feb. It seems to be paired to a Hoodie so we'll see if it hangs around and produces some hybrids.

To top it all off, there have been some really cracking calm, mild & sunny days lately with singing Skylarks & Reed Buntings, displaying Lapwings and a handful of migrating Lesser Black-backed Gulls indicating that Spring is certainly on the way.

BirdWatch Ireland Wicklow Branch outing to Kilcoole
One of three Otters which showed extremely well during the Wicklow Branch outing © Fianna McGinley 

Been a few dips so far too: Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull (patch bogey), 2 Jack Snipe, Pink-footed Goose, 3 Purple Sandpipers (patch mega) & a Chiffchaff all seen by other local birders.

But despite that, the current patch year list figures are 95 species, 121 points & 59.6%. That's 4 species ahead of Feb 2013. BirdTrack stats for Jan & Feb stand at 12 complete lists & 636 records.