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