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.
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.
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%