Monday, 7 April 2014

Purple Patch – Larne Lough update

Life ‘Post-Crane’ around the Larne patch has been predictably dull, with just the occasional oddity turning up and a slow trickle of migrants arriving through March.  However, in the past week or so, things have really livened up, with some birds actually troubling the bonus points column on the score sheet!  Since my last update in early February, I have made more visits to Glynn Station and Sandy Bay than I care to remember and have had no end of trouble trying to find certain ‘common’ species.  Yet, somehow it all seems worthwhile when the patch serves up birding gems like Kumlien’s Gull and Glossy Ibis!
 
The only addition to the year list in February following the Crane was a drake Shoveler, found loitering off Glynn Station with Wigeon on 22nd, which I’m treating as a patch tick – although I do have a vague recollection of seeing two females at Glynn many moons ago, but don’t seem to have noted it down anywhere.
 
 
 
There has been no shortage of gulls to check through during the past month or two, with a major arrival occurring in mid-February and numbers generally building since then.  I made a rough count of all the gulls visible from Glynn Station on 20th February and tallied 1200 Black-headed Gulls, 800 Common Gulls, 300 Herring Gulls, 25+ Great Black-backed Gulls, 5 Mediterranean Gulls and 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A grand total of over 2300 gulls, but this figure could easily have been doubled had all the gulls in the north end of the lough been counted.  Paying close attention to the gulls also revealed the spring arrival of Med Gulls, with at least 12 birds being seen on at least one occasion (8 x adults, 2 x 2nd sum & 2 x 1st sum) around the patch.  By mid-March several adults could be seen displaying off Glynn Station and most will hopefully stay to breed on the nearby islands, which are currently heaving with gulls and terns.
No further year ticks were seen until 9th March when I finally caught up with a Kingfisher at Glynn Station.  Later that day, on my first foray to Curran Point of the year I managed two more with 15+ apparently fresh in Meadow Pipits and a female Stonechat.  On my second visit here on 17th March, a nice male Wheatear was present.  This site definitely seems capable of attracting passerine migrants.


Other early spring migrants were picked up around the patch on predictable March dates – Black-tailed Godwits on 14th, the first Chiffchaff singing at Bank Road on 16th, Sandwich Terns off Glynn Station on 29th and a Blackcap at Glynn Lagoon on 30th.  Although a Whimbrel seen and heard off Glynn on 19th March had most likely wintered there.
 
Little Egret and Water Rail proved surprisingly difficult to get onto the year list. The former was not encountered at until 14th March and an early morning stake out of the private lagoon at Glynn was required for the latter the following day.


 
March is normally one of the best months of the year in Larne Lough, as in addition to the mass arrival of gulls, there is also a nice build-up of ducks, geese and waders and this year proved to be no exception. Peak counts from Glynn Station included: 120 Brent Geese, 145 Redshank, 6 Greenshank, 100+ Curlew, 129 Eider, 63 Goldeneye and 58 Red-breasted Merganser. As well as occasional Red-throated and Great Northern Divers. 
I was beginning to think the most unusual gull sighting of the winter was going to be an adult Kittiwake seen roosting off Glynn Station on 19th March, but an evening trip to the local garage on 31st soon changed that idea.  Driving home along the harbour highway, I noticed a nice collection of gulls loafing at the Inver River mouth at high tide.  I pulled onto the hard shoulder and was scanning the flock with my bins, when I was stopped in my tracks by a most welcome tail pattern! I focussed in on the bird – an adult Kumlien’s Gull, but something wasn’t quite right, it was at the dark end of things for Kumlien’s, appeared rather chunky and most strikingly appeared to have an all dark bill.  At that moment I realised I had no scope with me, so after a quick dash home, I was soon back viewing the bird from the Bank Road side of the lough as it drifted further away on the outgoing tide.  I managed good views and took some shots through the scope.  The eye was also dark (ok for adult Kumlien’s), the breast and neck heavily marked/streaked and the bill did have some blotches of yellow on it, suggesting it may have been stained or caked in mud.  Later that night, once confirmed as a Kumlien’s by various other gull enthusiasts, I updated my patch score sheet to discover it was worth a whopping 6 points!

 
I arrived home from a work visit to England late on 3rd April to discover that the Glossy Ibis first seen outside the patch boundary in January had been seen off Glynn Station.  Obviously this necessitated a 7am visit the next morning before work, but there was no sign, although the first Willow Warbler of the year was in full song at the station.   
My next visit to Glynn Station on the evening of 6th April, will live long in the memory.  I arrived to find a couple of local birders casually chatting about a Pintail – I raised my bins and right at the mouth of the river was a stunning drake, which I quickly told them (not that they cared much) was the first time I had ever seen this species in the lough.  Shortly afterwards, the original patch birder himself - Cameron Moore arrived to get some shots of the bird. He then told me he had seen the Glossy Ibis there that morning.  Whilst enjoying views of the Pintail a small grebe popped up into my field of view.  I got onto it through the scope and stopped Cameron mid-sentence and said you might want to take a look at this grebe!  A smart Slavonian Grebe almost in full summer plumage was feeding just yards away from the Pintail!  This was as good as a patch tick, as my only previous record was of a dubious long range bird several years ago.  I have seen summer plumaged Slav’s in Strangford and Lough Foyle before, but never at such close range.  An absolute belter.

 
 
I ventured off to view the private lagoon from the main road, hoping to finally see the Glossy Ibis.  After half an hour searching there was no sign, but I did manage to year tick Coot!  I returned to the platform at Glynn to find that another couple of birders had arrived to see the grebe.  As all present stood taking in views of the grebe and Pintail, local birder Brian shouted out “hold on, isn’t that the Ibis just off the point?” Err hell yea it is!  Appearing as if from nowhere, the Glossy Ibis was now standing within feet of the feeding Pintail and Slav Grebe…
 


 
Having birded around Larne for many years, this sort of thing just does not happen here.  Whatever next I asked Cameron, “Pelicans” he replied.
All this action leaves me on 102 species or 131 points for the year.
Shirley Dunlop, Gerard McGeehan, Cameron Moore and Brian enjoying all the goings on at Glynn last night...

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